On Wednesday, the House Health and Social Services Committee was presented information by Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and other associates to update members of the House HSS committee and the public on the ongoing difficulties with the spread of COVID-19.
“As we have seen across the world, the numbers of cases of COVID-19 continue to climb nationally and internationally. There is a bunch of information out there online and we continue to watch this as a world pandemic affects us not only here in the state, but how it is managed internationally makes a big impact on our connections and our cases worldwide,” said Zink.
On Friday, 20 new cases of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 were announced on the DHSS response hub. Out of the 836 total positive cases in Alaska, 167 of those have been non residents and 303 are listed as active cases. In the Mat-Su, 13 cases have been identified in the last six days bringing the total up to 68. A total of 67 Alaskans have been cumulatively hospitalized as a result of symptoms of COVID-19.
“Another thing about this disease is it is highly contagious and people can pass the disease from one person to another before they develop any symptoms,” said Zink.
Zink noted the first major wave of positive test results that came in largely around Anchorage and Fairbanks and differentiated between the second spike in positives around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. Zink said that existing hospital capacity has been crucial in battling the virus and listed 14 people on Wednesday as hospitalized or persons under investigation. Zink also stressed that symptoms can present as incredibly mild and promoted testing as the best tool to determine if someone has contracted COVID-19 or not. Alaska’s Chief Epidemiologist DR. Joe McLaughlin discussed the questions about length of immunity after someone has been infected with COVID-19 and if they may be at risk for becoming infected a second time.
“What we know from these other types of viral infections is that most people do develop some level of immunity to these viral infections. The duration of immunity varies for some of these human coronavirus infections besides the COVID-19 virus, the durability of that immunity is probably on the order of about a year give or take some months, but we don’t know how long immunity will be conferred for COVID-19 among people who have had infection,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin described the Centers for Disease Control definition of an outbreak as two or more laboratory confirmed cases that were epidemiologically linked between two people who do not share the same household within 14 days. McLaughlin said that he is unsure about the length that immunity could last, but that 10-30 percent of upper respiratory infections yearly are attributed to other human coronaviruses. McLaughlin also discussed the protocols for a vaccination, should that happen in the near future. McLaughlin said that 135 vaccinations are being put through trials worldwide and that the United States Government is funding three separate studies. McLaughlin said that if a vaccine arrives this fall, the CDC provided guidance on how to administer the vaccine. A vaccine would first be administered to priority populations of people who are at high risk of infection before a second wave of vaccines sent out would be provided to the general population.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are infected that never develop any symptoms at all,” said McLaughlin.