COMFORT FOOD – From left, Xannie Borseth, Clara Gray and Mary Ferguson prepare herring eggs this morning in front of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska's Healing House. STA staff and volunteers spent the morning processing branches of herring roe and the afternoon delivering the branches to tribal elders and others. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson) 

Alaska Medical Officer Wins Praise, Thanks

By BECKY BOHRER
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, has become the explainer-in-chief for Alaskans during the coronavirus outbreak, a regular at news conferences who has become known for providing information in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner.

She’s gotten praise from residents for her approach and inspired a poem from a Juneau city official. U.S. Rep. Don Young, who was criticized last month for downplaying the seriousness of the virus in a speech to fellow seniors, has jumped on the bandwagon with a website where people can submit thank you notes to Zink. 

Dr. Anne Zink. (AP File Photo/Mark Thiessen)

 Colleagues of the emergency medicine physician aren’t surprised. Dr. Jay Butler, a former chief medical officer for Alaska who now works for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Zink can translate data for others, “always with an eye to the humanity in health care and public health.” 

State health Commissioner Adam Crum said Butler was among those who suggested Zink for her current role, which she started last year. Crum said he thinks Zink’s emergency medicine experience — “where your normal is chaos” — helped prepare her for this time. 

In emergency medicine, “nothing is ever going to be exactly as you need it but you still have to make sure you take care of the patient and you have to make sure that you’re communicating ... with possibly very upset and emotionally distressed family members,” he said.

In regular news conferences with Gov. Mike Dunleavy that also often feature Crum, Zink provides updates on the number of cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, state preparations, ways Alaskans can prevent the spread of the virus that causes the disease, testing and scientific developments. 

The typically hour-long news conferences are streamed online and have been carried on a statewide public affairs channel. Thursday, nearly the entire news conference, which stretched about 90 minutes, was devoted to Zink, who gave a lengthy presentation and fielded questions.

She often begins responses by saying, “I appreciate that question.” In news conferences and short videos, she reminds Alaskans to be kind to one another. 

She also has admitted mistakes. For instance, Zink apologized for misspeaking Tuesday about a case involving an oil-field worker, saying she wasn’t able to fully discuss it with her epidemiological team in gathering information ahead of a news conference. The details were quickly corrected.

Zink, who has practiced medicine in Palmer, was on a sabbatical, traveling the world with her family, when Crum first contacted her about possibly becoming the state’s chief medical officer. The next time they spoke, “she had read four books by other chief medical officers ... to see what their perspective was. That’s Dr. Zink,” Crum said. She’s “always bettering herself,” he said.

The Associated Press on Tuesday submitted a request to speak with Zink through the health department’s communications office. A department spokesman said he’d provide an update on the request when he had one.

Zink told the Alaska Landmine podcast last year she grew up in Colorado with physician parents. She worked as a mountaineering guide in Alaska during college and in pursuing medicine gravitated toward emergency care.

“I love being able to take care of a CEO right next to someone who’s homeless right next to a kid. Like, it’s just this whole variety of life. And you really realize how human we all are,” she told the podcast. 

David Scordino, a medical director at Alaska Regional Hospital who has known Zink for several years, said she is authentic.

“Everything that you are seeing is her genuine self. She’s intelligent and capable and well-mannered and thoughtful and that expression of caring comes out in every interaction you ever have with her,” he said.

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, in an “ode” to Zink, included these lines: “Oh Alaska, I love you and it feels like we are teetering on the brink/ who can guide and steer us? The unflappable Dr. Zink!”

Watt said the poem was meant to show appreciation and remind people worried or scared about COVID-19 “they can just trust our expert.”

Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, is a Zink fan, too. He recently said on Twitter that when she approaches the podium to speak, “I feel like everything is going to be alright.” 

Zink has since started attending news conferences remotely. Crum said she wants to practice the social distancing she preaches.

Halcro said he likes Zink’s concise manner.

“The difference is, if you ask Dr. Zink what time it is, she will tell you what time it is. If you ask anybody else on that stage what time it is, they will tell you how to build a watch,” he said, adding later: “In times of crisis, people want facts. They want to be reassured. ... They want to know what’s coming.”

 

2 More Alaskans Die Of Virus; Toll Now at 4

The Associated Press

Two more Alaskans died of the COVID-19 illness brought on by the coronavirus and 14 more people were diagnosed with the disease, the state Department of Health and Social Services said Saturday. 

A middle-aged man from Anchor Point developed symptoms and subsequently died of COVID-19 out of state March 29, the department said. An older woman Fairbanks who was confirmed as a positive case March 27 died Friday, the department added,. 

The state now has a total of 171 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths. The 14 new cases are distributed as follows: Anchorage: 7; Eagle River/Chugiak: 1; Fairbanks: 3; North Pole: 1; Juneau: 1; and Anchor Point 1, the department said. 

“Our hearts go out to the families of these deceased Alaskans,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement. “This is a heartbreaking reminder of how important it is for all of us to continue doing our part to slow down the transmission of this virus by strictly adhering to the social distancing and travel mandates and other health advisories.” 

On Friday, state health officials recommended Alaskans wear cloth face coverings in certain public areas to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Use of face coverings was not mandated, and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said the best thing residents can do is stay a minimum of 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others. But she said if they must go out in public — to the grocery store, for example — they should consider wearing a covering over their nose and mouth.

This is in line with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said studies indicate that many people with the virus lack symptoms. Alaska’s health alert says the main purpose of the coverings is to reduce the release of respiratory droplets into the air when a person speaks, coughs or sneezes. 

State High Court Seeks More Info in Gov Recall

JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Supreme Court on Thursday requested additional briefing on one of the proposed grounds for recall of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The Recall Dunleavy campaign has stated four claims against Dunleavy. The court wants to hear more about the claim that Dunleavy violated separation of powers by using his veto power to “attack the judiciary and the rule of law.”

Justices set out a schedule with filings to be completed by April 20. 

The state Division of Elections had appealed a Superior Court judge’s ruling that the recall effort should be allowed to proceed. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the matter last week.

Dunleavy last year cut from the court budget an amount the administration said was commensurate to state funding for abortions. This happened after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for Medicaid funding. The administration separately is being sued over this veto.

Anger over the governor’s proposed budget cuts and vetoes helped fuel the push. Dunleavy has said the recall effort is political. 

The court allowed recall supporters to begin a new signature-gathering phase while it considers the appeal.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 4-5-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of noon Sunday.

New cases as of yesterday: 6

Total cases: 191

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 23, and the cumulative number of deaths is six.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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