Alaska reported 654 new COVID-19 cases Sunday as hospitalizations reached a new high and the number of available intensive care unit beds dwindled.
No new deaths were reported Sunday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The cases reported Sunday are the second-highest daily number in Alaska since the pandemic began here in March. The state’s record number came just a day before, when officials reported that 745 more Alaskans had contracted the virus. The high case counts over the weekend come after weeks of climbing case numbers and rising death tolls across Alaska.
Since March, 98 Alaskans with COVID-19 died and Alaska’s overall death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country. One non-resident died in Alaska after testing positive for the virus, health officials said last week.
Hospitalizations reached a new high Sunday, as 118 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized. Another 23 people who were hospitalized were suspected to have COVID-19. Health officials have stressed for weeks that the rising case numbers could overwhelm Alaska’s hospitals. Staffing capacity in hospitals has also been a top concern.
Only 30 adult intensive care unit beds remained open statewide by Sunday.
Across the country, COVID-19 infections are spiking, causing states to impose new mandates in attempt to control the spread and to stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the virus “an imminent threat” and sent out an emergency alert last week asking Alaskans to avoid social gatherings, wear masks and wash their hands.
Dunleavy issued a new set of COVID-19 health orders Sunday, that will go into effect Monday. Many of the orders renew health mandates issued by Dunleavy in March. The orders come at the same time as the state’s declaration of public health disaster begins. The state’s previous disaster declaration was set to expire Sunday.
The new orders include clarifications about telehealth and occupational licensing that allow for flexibility from oversight boards that regulate health care. The orders also specify that shareholders' meetings may be held electronically and sales of raffle tickets or lotteries can be held online to benefit Alaska charities.
The new orders also modify intrastate travel recommendations. On Monday, communities will be able to enact their own travel restrictions. Starting Saturday, the state will recommend that travelers who visit a community on the road or ferry systems for less than three days should get tested for COVID-19 five days after they arrive at their destination. The state recommends that travelers from communities on the road or ferry systems should get tested 72 hours before they travel to a community off the road system. A previous intrastate travel mandate did not recommend testing during or after travel within Alaska.
Of the 642 cases reported in Alaska residents, 339 were in Anchorage, six in Chugiak, 30 in Eagle River and two in Girdwood; two were in Anchor Point, seven in Homer, 14 in Kenai, two in Nikiski, two in Seward, 25 in Soldotna and one in Sterling; 12 were in Kodiak; one was in Ester, 58 in Fairbanks, 12 in North Pole and five in Delta Junction; one in Big Lake, seven in Palmer and 32 in Wasilla; two were in Nome; one was in Utqiagvik; two were in Kotzebue; 15 were in Juneau; five were in Ketchikan; two were Metlakatla; 13 were in Sitka; one was in Wragell; five were in Bethel; and one was in Dillingham. The state reported two confirmed cases in unknown locations.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that are not named to protect privacy, there were three cases in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough and two in the southern portion of the borough; three were in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; three were in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two were in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one was in the Nome Census Area; three were in the North Slope Borough; one was in the Aleutians East Borough; 12 were in the Bethel Census Area; four were in the combined Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs; and one was in the Kusilvak Census Area.
Another 12 cases were reported in nonresidents Sunday, including two in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks, one in Prudhoe Bay and one in the Aleutians East Borough. Seven of the cases were in unknown regions, the state reported.
Of the new cases, it is not reported how many patients were showing symptoms of the virus when they tested positive. While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department only represents one person.
The state’s testing positivity as of Sunday was 8.35% over a seven-day rolling average. A positivity rate over 5% can indicate high community transmission and not enough testing, health officials have said.
— Tess WIlliams