Alaska reported one new death and 676 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, data from the Department of Health and Social Services showed.
The death was an Anchorage man in his 60s, the department said.
In total, 101 Alaskans have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived here in March. By Saturday, 124 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide.
The new case count of 676 marks the second-highest daily tally after Alaska reported 745 new COVID-19 last Saturday. The entire state is in a high-alert level zone based on the number of cases recorded per 100,000 people, and is in the midst of an unprecedented surge in new cases, with just one day since Nov. 12 that had a case count below 500.
Given that hospitalizations and deaths can lag multiple weeks behind initial test results, doctors and health officials are concerned that even more people may need advanced medical care in an already strained healthcare system with hundreds of staff in either quarantine or isolation.
Dr. Benjamin Westley, a physician who specializes in infectious disease and treats COVID-19 patients in Anchorage, said in an interview this week that the number of people hospitalized with serious COVID-19 far outweighs even the worst flu seasons of his career.
COVID-19 patients make up “a massive, massive number,” of some of the city’s hospitals, Westley said.
And since hospitalizations lag behind positive tests by up to four weeks, the worst may be yet to come, he said.
“That’s why we’re all so terrified,” Westley said.
With the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, he’s scared. Doctors are urging people to think twice about those gatherings, Westley said, especially when as many as two thirds of Thanksgiving dinner guests may be at risk for getting seriously ill with COVID-19. By doing the right thing now, there will be many more years to look forward to, Westley said.
Statewide, officials continue to emphasize precautions—frequent hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wearing—in order to reign in the number of daily cases. They’re also asking people to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings and travel, in fear of a sudden post-holiday spike in cases.
Over the past week, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. cited the need for a region-wide lockdown as virus cases continue to surge there. And while acting Anchorage mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson issued no new mandates, she warned residents that the current pace of cases was unsustainable.
The state’s testing positivity as of Friday was 8.99% over a seven-day rolling average. A positivity rate over 5% can indicate high community transmission and not enough testing, health officials have said.
Of the 670 new cases reported in Alaska residents, there were 301 in Anchorage, plus eight in Chugiak, 24 in Eagle River; two in Anchor Point; two in Fritz Creek; 18 in Homer; nine in Kenai; two in Nikiski; 11 in Seward; 29 in Soldotna; three in Sterling; 10 in Kodiak; 66 in Fairbanks; 21 in North Pole; 11 in Delta Junction; one in Tok; 14 in Palmer; 21 in Wasilla; one in Willow; four in Nome; two in Utqiagvik; 11 in Kotzebue; one in Douglas; eight in Juneau; one in Ketchikan; eight in Sitka; one in Skagway; 21 in Bethel and four in Dillingham.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that are not named to protect privacy, there were five in the Northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; five in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough; two in the Kodiak Island Borough; two in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; seven in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; three in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; one in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough; 22 in the Bethel Census Area; seven in the Kusilvak Census Area and one in an unknown part of the state.
Of the six nonresident case reported in Alaska on Saturday, there were two in Anchorage and four in unknown parts of the state.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department only represents one person.
Of the new cases, it is not reported how many patients were showing symptoms when they tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.
In total, 27,224 Alaska residents and nonresidents living in Alaska have tested positive for the virus since March.
State health officials say the rise in cases is causing contact tracing efforts to be strained statewide, and ask those who test positive to reach out to their own close contacts.
Close contacts should then quarantine for two weeks even if they’re not showing any symptoms, and even if they receive negative test results during that time. If asymptomatic, close contacts are encouraged to get tested about a week after their potential exposure; if symptomatic, get tested right away.