The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Kodiak Island Wednesday afternoon. According to a press release from the Kodiak Area Emergency Services Organization, “The individual is not acutely ill and is staying at home.”
“Public health officials have made contact with the individual, and we’ll continue to monitor the condition to ensure continued self isolation,” city manager Mike Tvenge said. “Right now we have no reason to suspect this won’t occur.”
Kodiak Public Health nurse Elsa DeHart confirmed the case appeared in town, not in one of Kodiak’s six outlying villages. The state COVID-19 database, updated on Thursday, shows the patient is male, between the ages of 20 and 29.
Public health officials are beginning an investigation to identify and reach out to anyone the patient came in contact with. DeHart said they’re trying to narrow down people the patient was within 6 feet of, for more than ten minutes at a time, in the days before they began showing symptoms.
“Then we work backwards for a couple weeks to try and find out where they might have been in that time when they might have gotten sick.” She said Public Health will notify and isolate additional people as necessary.
It’s too soon to know how far the disease will spread in Kodiak, according to DeHart. “We’ll just have to see where this goes,” she said. “There’s a potential that we could get a bunch more cases that are kind of surrounding this. Hopefully, it’ll just be a little isolated thing, but we won’t know that.”
DeHart said the contact investigation highlights why social distancing is crucial to limiting the spread of coronavirus. “If people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is staying home or just going home into one or two places or being in very little contact with people, then it turns out to be a pretty nice investigation,” she said. “But potentially, if people are not doing that, and they’re just out in the community, then it could be dozens. So that’s why it’s so important that people stay home.”
Tvenge also emphasized the importance of practicing the CDC recommended guidelines for preventing spread of the coronavirus — wash hands frequently, stay away from others and practice social distancing as much as possible and wear a mask in public. Anyone who is feeling ill should contact their health care provider for advice before coming into a medical facility.
Kodiak Area Native Association and Kodiak Community Health Center are accepting calls from all residents, regardless of if they are patients, to provide screening and, if necessary, test for COVID-19. With hundreds of rapid-testing kits on island, KANA’s Dr. Evan Jones said while there aren’t enough supplies to test everyone in Kodiak, they can be more liberal about who they test.
“We’ve become very easygoing about who we test,” he said Wednesday morning, before the positive result was announced. “We would be happy to test people who are concerned about it, especially people who have higher risk population in their household.”
The person who tested positive was among those tested with the new rapid-testing kits at one of Kodiak’s clinics, said DeHart. “They weren’t feeling well, so they called their provider and then the provider authorized them to have a test. So they went and got tested. They did exactly what they should have done. It was perfect.”
Kodiak’s positive case was not among the eight new cases reported by the state in its mid-day count update Wednesday, but with it the total number of cases in Alaska is 294. (The updated count included a case from the Nome census area, three from Juneau, one from Kenai and three from Anchorage.)
This story has been updated.