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Alaska hits daily high for new resident coronavirus infections, but no new reported hospitalizations

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Alaska’s daily tally of new confirmed coronavirus infections hit a record Friday for residents, but there were no additional hospitalizations or deaths reported by the state.

The new cases aren’t leading to an immediate crisis in health-care capacity, but officials are watching the numbers closely. Rising case counts in other states have been followed by a surge in hospitalizations.

There were 55 new cases confirmed Thursday and reported Friday: 51 in residents and four in nonresidents, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 database.

That’s the highest number of new cases in residents since the pandemic reached Alaska in March. The total highest number is 60 cases, reported on July 3, including 46 residents and 14 nonresidents.

In Anchorage, where nearly half of Friday’s new resident cases were reported, city officials warned that many of the metrics they use to track their ability to contain the virus are currently at “yellow” or “red,” signaling concern.

“This past week, we’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of new cases from the previous week,” said Christy Lawton, public health division manager with the city health department, at a community briefing on Friday.

There were 153 cases confirmed in Anchorage this week, which was up from 58 cases from the week before, she said.

Hospitalizations in Anchorage of people confirmed to have the virus or suspected of having the virus also more than doubled this past week to 21, she said.

Dr. Bruce Chandler, the city’s chief medical officer, said at the briefing that Anchorage was experiencing “a steady increase in community transmission,” with cases tied to “a large number of businesses.”

Chandler also said there have been delays in people receiving test results, which have been taking a week or more to come back.

As for contact tracing, a key tool public health workers use to track how the virus spreads, there is currently a one- to two-day delay in the ability to contact new cases, Lawton said.

“We really are beyond our max capacity” for contact tracing, she said, due to rising numbers of cases in the city and limited resources.

Businesses can help the health department by keeping track of who visits their establishments, she said. While businesses are not required to keep a logbook, it is encouraged as part of the city’s “phase 3″ reopening guidelines.

“We flattened the curve once, we need to flatten it again,” Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said.

“A return to ‘hunker down is a distant possibility right now,” he said. “But let’s not go there. Let’s practice what we know works to keep the virus at bay.”

Alaska’s COVID-19 daily case counts dropped to single digits in May before restrictions were lifted to reopen the state’s economy in light of favorable hospital capacity and stores of personal protective equipment.

Health officials this week said younger people testing positive may explain why hospitalizations aren’t rising as dramatically as daily counts; 30 of the 51 new cases reported Friday residents under 40.

They also say 60 to 70 percent of the positive tests are people with symptoms. Alaska is testing at a relatively high rate per capita, officials say, in part because of testing for travel, medical or dental procedures, or seafood industry jobs.

An outbreak among Fairbanks North Star Borough employees this week temporarily shuttered the borough administration building for deep-cleaning.

According to state reports, the new cases include 22 Anchorage residents including 1 person from Eagle River; 14 people in Fairbanks and 1 in North Pole; 1 in Seward, 2 in Homer, 3 in Kenai; 1 in Palmer, 2 in Wasilla, 1 in Willow; 1 in Nome and 1 in a community in the Nome area; and 1 in Juneau.

The new nonresident cases were reported in a tourist in Wasilla and three people in Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs including two seafood workers.

The City of Seward, where an outbreak that began in late June is responsible for more than 40 confirmed positives, reported another two new positive COVID-19 test results on Friday that won’t be counted in state data until Saturday.

As of Friday’s reports, the state has confirmed 1,581 COVID-19 cases since March: 1,323 in residents and 258 in nonresidents.

There are 913 people considered to have active infections including 718 residents and 195 nonresidents. It’s not clear how many of those people have symptoms of the virus.

Of the 51 Alaska residents with positive results reported Friday, 29 are male and 22 are female. Two are under 10; eight are aged 10-19; 16 are in their 20s; four are in their 30s; six are in their 40s; eight are in their 50s; four are in their 60s; and three are in their 70s.

Recovered cases now total 588 with 17 new recovered cases recorded Thursday, state officials say. A total of 141,931 tests have been conducted. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the previous three days is 1.46%.

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