Alaska News

Alaska sees record with 526 COVID-19 cases reported Sunday

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On Sunday, Alaska saw the highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began here in March, with 526 new infections reported by the Department of Health and Social Services.

The record numbers Sunday come after a week of climbing cases representing a major surge statewide, including dramatic increases throughout rural communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. The previous highest daily case increase was Saturday, with 355 COVID-19 cases reported.

Sunday marks the 32nd consecutive day Alaska has had case numbers in the triple digits.

The rise in cases Sunday was due to widespread community transmission, increased testing in many communities and backlogged case data, the health department said in an online statement.

A vast majority of Sunday’s cases were reported in Alaskans younger than 60, said health department commissioner Adam Crum in the statement. Younger people are less likely to die or become severely ill from the virus than older people or those with compromised immune systems.

“The saturation of the virus in the community increases the likelihood that our vulnerable populations such as older Alaskans or others at risk of severe illness will be infected, and these are the groups we are especially trying to protect,” he said.

[Alaska’s second wave of COVID-19 is bringing surging daily case counts, more hospitalizations and a new foe: fatalism.]

There were no new deaths reported Sunday. The state’s per capita death rate remains among the lowest in the country. In total, 68 Alaskans have died with COVID-19.

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COVID-19 cases in Alaska

Cases expected to remain in the triple digits for the near future

The significant increase in case numbers throughout the weekend was partly due to a backlog of tests. Dr. Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department, said that “means that we’ve got even more virus in the community than we realized.”

She said the high case numbers throughout the weekend will likely calm as the backlog decreases, but Johnston expects the state will still be seeing triple-digit cases in the coming weeks.

“I think the 200-range numbers may be here for a while,” she said by phone Sunday.

The state is currently seeing a reproduction rate around 1.1, which Johnston said means that on average, each person is spreading the virus to one or more other people. Decreasing that number, she said, is the key to decreasing the spread.

Johnston said a combination of factors have continued to increase case numbers throughout the last few months. As restrictions loosened, more people were regularly in contact with others, which could then spread COVID-19.

“Early on, people were taking it really seriously and people were scared because they didn’t know what was going on. ... But now it feels a little bit like because we did so well early on, some people aren’t as concerned," she said. "And when you combine that with the change in the weather and more socializing going on inside, I think you know that’s a dangerous combination for us.”

Hospitals remained stable Sunday, but Johnston said there is some concern looking forward that resources may be stretched as infection rates remain high. She also noted that little is known yet about the long-term impact of COVID-19.

Hospitalizations on Sunday remained unchanged from the day before, with 58 Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19. On Friday, 59 people were hospitalized with the illness, a record for the state. Hospitalizations are what’s known as a “lagging indicator,” meaning people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 may have tested positive weeks earlier.

[Alaska’s COVID-19 data this week showed no big change in hospitalizations. The data was wrong. Hospitalizations just hit a new record.]

On Sunday, 41 of the state’s 131 intensive-care-unit beds were available. The 92 occupied beds included COVID-19 patients as well as people suffering from other illnesses or injuries.

The department said Sunday that hospital capacity remained steady, but noted that the Alaska Airlines Center was still prepared to handle patients if hospitals overflow. The department said the Norton Sound Health Corp. is opening an additional alternative care site as cases have continued to rise.

The state’s testing positivity rate as of Sunday was 6.32% over a seven-day rolling average.