Health Workers Address City Council On Preventing Coronavirus In Unalaska

Mar 11, 2020

Iliuliuk Family and Health Services is preparing for Coronavirus cases. As of March 11, there have been no confirmed cases in Alaska.
Credit KUCB

As of Wednesday, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alaska. But as the disease spreads throughout the Lower 48, communities across the state are preparing for outbreaks.

In Unalaska, a number of agencies and organizations—including the clinic, city, and fish processing plants—are working on a preparedness plan for the island.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, Dr. Murray Buttner from Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS) and Donna Bean, a public health nurse with the State of Alaska, spoke about precautions and prevention measures.

First, Bean said there are still not enough testing kits in the state—or the country—for everyone who is showing signs of upper respiratory diseases.

"We're not going to be able to test everyone who has these symptoms," said Bean. "We're going to have to do a screening to determine who should be tested because we have so few tests."

However, despite the lack of available testing, Buttner urged Unalaskans to remain calm.

"We have, in general, quite a young and healthy population here," said Buttner. "We don't have a huge number of people in the high risk age groups or disease categories you might see, We have an excellent chance of this not turning into a major event, but a lot of it depends on things we can do as ourselves and as a community."

He compared the virus to the flu, which is far more prevalent and kills tens of thousands of people every year. 

Both health professionals said that, right now, it's up to individuals to prevent the spread of the virus. Bean said that health workers and the City of Unalaska are "relying on the community to make sure individuals are taking care of themselves." 

"Protective measures like washing your hands, and staying home if you're getting sick," Bean explained. "Those things are really going to help prevent the clinic from getting overwhelmed." 

Both Bean and Buttner recommended that Unalaskans wash their hands often, avoid touching their face, stay home if they're feeling sick, and get their flu shot if they haven't already.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, movement restrictions are already being implemented. Anchorage's school district cancelled all domestic and international travel. But travel within the state has so far not been suspended.

Parts of Seattle now have a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. 

For more information on COVID-19 in Alaska, visit the Department of Health and Social Services website.