COVID-19 Update: Bristol Bay officials discuss new information about the coronavirus

Mar 13, 2020

The city of Dillingham is reaching out to processors ahead of the 2020 salmon season. The hospital can now test for COVID-19 if someone shows symptoms.

As information is changing, community leaders are making efforts to keep people informed.
Credit KDLG/Izzy Ross

Tyler Thompson: Hello everyone, we are back with updated information about the coronavirus in Alaska and Bristol Bay. I’m joined today by public health nurse Gina Carpenter, clinical health director Dr. Cathy Hyndman, City Manager Tod Larson and Anchorage nursing student April Brown from the Airforce. Thanks everyone for coming down to the station.

Thompson: Gina I’ll start with you, what is the latest?

Gina Carpenter: Biggest message we want to get out, we can anticipate cases of coronavirus as of today, Thursday March 12. We don’t have any [cases], when it gets to Alaska the risk of it spreading quickly is a risk to take into consideration. You don’t have to be exposed to the sick person you just have to be in the environment where a sick person with coronavirus was. They had a cough a sneeze they were talking, laughing where droplet exposure occurred. Then you come by and touch that surface unknowingly. Big thing is to wash your hands and keep your hands off your face to try and protect yourself.

Thompson: I’ll ask you Dr. Hyndman, has anyone in Bristol Bay been tested for coronavirus?

Dr. Cathy Hyndman: No. No one has been tested in Bristol Bay, nobody has fell into the state recommended testing scheme. The state has changed the recommendations from last week. I’m happy to say we do have the viral media, the juice that we can stick a snot covered q-tip to send out to the state lab for testing. We have talked about ways to get them to the clinics if need be. There are also commercial labs, including the one that was use that do COVID testing, that was not true last week. However, you still have to get the q-tip in the test tube of juice to keep it alive until it gets to the testing center. There are time limits on how quickly it gets there. It must be within 72 hours of getting a sample which is a challenge in the bush.

Thompson: What has that outreach been like with villages and health clinics around Bristol Bay?

Dr. Hyndman: We have continual communication with the villages, they do educational programs every Thursday about who to test, how to swab, how to protect yourself from ill people, while we don’t have the viral testing media in the village should there be someone sick, we can get it out there within the realm of flight.

Thompson: How’re things looking on the city side of things, Tod?

Tod Larson: Going on behind the scenes is working with public health and the hospital just in case. One of my biggest concerns, there’s a number of them, but I'm trying to get ahold of the processors. We’re gonna set up a conference call to see what their plans are as they bring workers in for the fish season. I talked to Icicle Seafoods yesterday, they have plans in place and a screening methodology. But we need to get everyone on the phone to make sure we know who’s coming in here, if they will be screened, what preventative measures are they going to take, will the hospital be involved, so there’s a lot of questions around the processors. That’s my second concern over seniors and vulnerable people.

Thompson: Yes, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems are most at risk, would the best precaution be to avoid visiting our elders?

Dr. Hyndman: That is a hard question to answer, because we do not yet know if we have any coronavirus here in town. I would say its best not to visit in large groups. If one or two people want to go visit grandma, to make sure she has a collection of meals cooked and stored in the freezer, should things get worse here, fewer people would need to go visit, that is appropriate.

Thompson: So at this point, if you are out in public and you’re in a space where you can be exposed, do you recommend that people keep sanitizer or wipes on their person?

Dr. Hyndman: It is reasonable to keep hand sanitizer with you, it has to have 60% alcohol in it, please read the back of your bottles because some sanitizer doesn’t have 60% alcohol. It is absolutely reasonable to when you get home, wash your hands for 20 seconds, it is about the length of happy birthday. As far as using wipes on the handles of shopping carts, also reasonable.

Thompson: Before we wrap up, I’ll ask you April, other than washing your hands and keeping them away from your face, are there any other concerns for preventing the spread of this virus?

April Brown: One thing that comes up quite a bit, people ask about facemasks. We recommend those only for the individual who is actually sick. It’s not going to protect you as the healthy individual from getting those droplets that contain the virus. Additionally, because they’re irritating to wear, it might cause you to even touch your face more than you would originally would. The simple things like that, and considering if we even need to travel, I know a lot of the sports team have cancelled their travel. While the young individuals might able to go and stay healthy, they might come back and bring that back to elders and any individuals who have more health risks.

Thompson: Thank you, April, and all of you who came down to the station. We’ll continue to provide updates here at KDLG as things move along.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200