Skagway man with COVID-19 makes his name public to speed up contact tracing

A man with COVID-19 in a small Alaska community near Yukon said he let the government publicly identify him in order to make contact tracing more efficient.

'I feel I owe it to ... the people we work with, my friends,' says Mike O'Daniel

Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. The community had its first COVID-19 case last week, and now has a total of five confirmed infections. (Steve Silva/CBC)

A man with COVID-19 in Skagway, Alaska, said he allowed his local government to publicly identify him in order to help speed up contact tracing.

"It just seemed like it was a much better, much faster, much better way to get on top of this," said Mike O'Daniel in a phone interview Monday.

"I feel I owe it to, you know, the people we work with, my friends … so they can sit there and take precautions or do checks and stuff like that."

The community, which is close to Yukon, reported its first known COVID-19 case last week, with four more people testing positive as of Tuesday. 

O'Daniel, 73, was the third person to test positive. But the municipality was not able to identify all his close contacts, the local government said in a statement.

Mike O'Daniel of Skagway, Alaska, seen here behind the wheel in 2013, tested positive for COVID-19. He allowed the local government to publicly identify him to facilitate contact tracing. (Wendy Anderson)

So after getting his permission, the municipality named O'Daniel in a statement this weekend, asking anyone who was in close contact with the man since Oct. 8, to call the local health clinic.

Publicizing name helped 'get this thing wrapped up' 

Mayor Andrew Cremata said allowing the government to reveal O'Daniel's name was a big help.

"It's amazing," Cremata said on Tuesday, who also noted strict government regulations against revealing medical information, such as O'Daniel's, without permission.

"What [O'Daniel] did enabled us, on a municipal level, to streamline the contact tracing process and really get this thing wrapped up and under control far quicker than would have been possible without that."

Skagway has a population of about 1,000 residents, and Cremata said they have been told to shelter in place since last Thursday.

The municipality says community transmission was the source of its COVID-19 infections. 

'Nothing but support'

O'Daniel was in good spirits on Monday.

"Feel great," O'Daniel said with a chuckle. "I thought I had a cold."

He said he wasn't worried about any negative reaction from his neighbours.

"If people are going to be negative, they're going to be negative. I mean, there's not much you can do about that," said O'Daniel, who was born and raised in Skagway.

It turns out that he received the opposite reaction from the community.

"Basically, nothing but support," said O'Daniel.

"People texting, saying, 'Hey, if you need anything, you know, just give a call. You know, we'll drop stuff off, we'll do whatever you need done.' People have been, actually, very helpful."


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