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Alaska reports 54 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, 5 new hospitalizations

Alejandra Legate swabs a traveler at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. A mobile clinic from Capstone Family Medicine operates a COVID-19 testing facility near the baggage claim at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on June 11, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

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Fifty-four new coronavirus infections were reported Tuesday in Alaska, with five new hospitalizations.

The number included 40 residents and 14 nonresidents who newly tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 dashboard updated Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began in March, there have been 1,899 cases of the virus identified in the state. After daily case counts in the single digits through most of May, counts began rapidly rising in June after the state eased pandemic restrictions on businesses and individuals.

The last week has seen new highs in new cases, with Sunday’s record daily count of 116, 77 the day before and 71 cases on Monday.

At a community briefing Monday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy encouraged Alaskans to continue taking the virus seriously but said he had no plans to impose further statewide restrictions or mandates.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that our hospital capacity remains intact, and that we do everything we can to safeguard those that are most vulnerable,” he said, “But we’re going to need your help.”

Dunleavy said that while the recent spike in new cases is “concerning,” Alaska continues to have some of the lowest rates of hospitalization and death in the country.

This is partly because young people in their 20s and 30s make up a large percentage of the new cases, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist.

He said that while he’s not able to pinpoint a single reason for this trend, young adults “might be less compliant with virus preventions, like social distancing and mask use,” and they also might be more likely to congregate at gatherings where social distancing can be difficult.

They may also be more likely to physically go to work than other age groups, McLaughlin said, which increases chances of transmission.

The good news is that young people are less likely to get hospitalized or die from COVID-19, he said.

“But the concern with this is that the virus is becoming more widespread, which can lead to a higher exposure rate for vulnerable populations,” McLaughlin explained.

Alaska residents under the age of 40 made up nearly 56% of the state’s 1,579 resident cases by Monday.

There were five new hospitalizations reported on Tuesday, for a total of 92 people ill enough to require hospital care since the pandemic began.

And while the number of hospitalizations has remained relatively low compared to other places, in the last week, more people with symptoms of COVID-19 have been showing up at emergency rooms in Anchorage and Fairbanks, several hospitals reported this week.

In other states, increasing emergency room visits have signaled a surge in hospitalizations.

Of the 1,899 people who have tested positive for the virus since March, 1,153 are considered active cases, and 729 have recovered.

Seventeen Alaskans with COVID-19 have died, including multiple residents who died outside of the state.

The state has completed a total of 149,473 tests as of Tuesday, with a 1.72% average positive rate over the last three days.

It was not immediately clear how many of the newly identified cases were symptomatic.

Of the new resident cases, nearly half -- 18 --were in people from Anchorage. There were also seven people from outside the state with new confirmed cases of the virus in Anchorage.

7-day averages
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In a statement Monday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz noted the city’s strained contact tracing ability, which has maxed out in recent weeks, as cases spike in the city. Contact tracing helps contain the virus as it identifies who may have the illness and where it’s potentially spreading.

Berkowitz also said the city needed to “defend our hospital capacity” and asked those in Anchorage to maintain physical distance, keep social bubbles small, wear masks and wash hands.

“Flattening the curve is how we stop the increase in cases,” Berkowitz said. “And, as we have seen in so many other states, it’s what we need to do so we won’t have to start shutting things down.”

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, six Wasilla residents tested positive for the illness Monday as did one person from Palmer.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, there were new cases in five Soldotna residents, one in a Sterling resident and one nonresident from a smaller community in the northern part of the borough. There were also two new cases of the illness in residents of the Valdez-Cordova Census area.

Fairbanks, which has seen a recent uptick in cases, saw five new cases among residents reported Monday.

There was also one case each reported in a resident of Juneau and a smaller community within the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.

Other nonresident cases included one in Petersburg and two in the Bristol Bay and Lake & Peninsula boroughs, as well as three in unknown parts of the state.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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