- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Alaska is at low risk for Ebola infections but the risk is real, and the state is taking steps to be prepared, Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday.

During a news conference in Anchorage with state health officials, Parnell said we live in an interconnected world, with Alaska serving as an international crossroads.

“So we want to be conscious of that,” he said. “And we are preparing for the worst-case scenario - even though we are at low risk - so that we can be prepared for any event.”

Parnell said a task force has been created to coordinate planning and preparedness among agencies. He said he has asked for weekly briefings “for the length of this potential public health concern.”

Parnell also said the health department has been directed to continue activities with health care facilities that include training and exercises and to do additional walk-throughs of facilities to make sure they and the state are ready to handle any suspected cases.

Officials in the state’s epidemiology division have been on calls with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other states to aid in planning and ensuring accurate information is getting out. The division also plans to provide updated Ebola information on its website.

“All of these activities help maximize the chance that any people in Alaska who are at risk for having Ebola disease will be handled appropriately and any risk to fellow Alaskans will be minimized,” Parnell said.

Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Cooper said the number of Alaskans with ties to the countries most affected by Ebola in west Africa and the estimated number of people from Alaska going to those countries to help and returning is low. But he said the risk is real because people may not show symptoms for up to 21 days after exposure.

He questioned the efficacy of enhanced screening for Ebola at airports, like those planned at several major U.S. airports, given the timeframe for showing symptoms. “It’s good that they’re doing it, I’m not sure of the efficacy,” he said.

Cooper said there has long been a quarantine station at Alaska’s largest airport, in Anchorage, for infectious illnesses like tuberculosis and measles.

The state’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, said there is an isolation room and people at the station are skilled at identifying patients. He said health officials have heard from several major hospitals in the state “ready and willing to care for a suspected Ebola patient.”

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State epidemiology division: https://www.epi.alaska.gov/

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