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State Extends Alaska School Closures And Enacts New Restrictions For Fairbanks, Ketchikan Businesses

Mar 20, 2020

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy gives a press conference about the novel coronavirus in early March in Anchorage.
Credit Joey Mendolia / APM

Alaska’s public and private schools will remain closed to students through at least May 1, extending the prior classroom shutdown by a month in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, state officials announced on March 20.

“Students will receive instruction through distance delivery methods,” said Alaska State Health Commissioner Adam Crum during a news conference. “All after-school activities will be suspended during this time.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Alaska had grown to 14 by Friday, March 20 out of more than 700 samples. That’s two more since the day before — one more each in Ketchikan and Fairbanks.

Crum also announced new business closures for the boroughs of Fairbanks and Ketchikan. The mandate closes hair salons, tattoo parlors, massage therapy and other personal care services that require close contact. The closure order for those boroughs goes into effect March 21 at 8 a.m.

Meanwhile, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Friday issued an “emergency hunker down order” for the state’s largest city. It goes into effect March 22.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not taken similar action at a state level. At Friday’s news conference he said, so far, most of Alaska’s known cases are believed to be travel-related. What could trigger more restrictive action, he said, is if the virus is spreading within the community.

“The moment we see that happening, again, these tools that we have on the table, many of them will be implemented, to slow it down even further,” Dunleavy said. “We’re trying to make sure that we don’t shut the entire state down, because we believe that is also going to have some serious, serious impacts and ramifications for the state of Alaska, if that occurs.”

The state is, however, asking Alaskans to stop all “non-essential” travel. 

“We know that this virus is spread as people move around, and as a result it’s really important that we have people not move around as much right now,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Zink said the state is “strongly advising” that all Alaskans stop “non-essential” out-of-state travel, including personal, business and medical trips. She encouraged Alaskans who are out of state to return home, and those visiting Alaska return to their home communities now. 

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.