The state on Tuesday reported 13 deaths of Alaskans with COVID-19 and 583 new cases, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
That’s the most deaths reported in a single day since the pandemic began in March. More than half of the people who died were from rural Alaska.
Five of the deaths were recent, the state health department said, and they involved a Sterling man in his 70s; a Wasilla man in his 60s; a Dillingham woman in her 80s; a woman from a smaller community in the Bethel area in her 80s; and a Soldotna man in his 90s.
The other eight deaths were identified through a standard death certificate review, the department said. The state receives death notices directly from hospitals whereas certificates go through a number of steps before reaching public health officials.
Prior deaths involved a Bethel man in his 30s, a woman from a smaller community in the Bethel area in her 60s and a man from a smaller community in the Bethel area in his 70s; a man from the Kusilvak Census Area in his 70s; a man from a smaller community in the Yukon-Koyukuk area in his 90s; a Soldotna man in his 80s; and a man and woman from Anchorage, both in their 60s.
In total, 115 Alaskans and one nonresident have died with COVID-19 since March, according to state data.
In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, where a total of 11 residents have died with the virus, 100 new cases were reported Monday and 71 on Tuesday. The Kuskokwim River village of Akiak, which has a population of about 400, has been particularly hard-hit. In the last three days, 115 residents there have tested positive. Surging case numbers in the region, coupled with a fragile health care system, prompted tribal health officials last week to call for a monthlong lockdown.
A number of the roughly 50 villages in the region are complying with the recommendation, Dan Winkelman, president and CEO at Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. said Tuesday on Alaska Public Media’s “Talk of Alaska” radio program. But there’s still too much movement between people in different villages.
“We have to try to stop visiting mom and dad and aunts and uncles, because that’s how it’s spreading out here in rural Alaska,” Winkelman said. “And people letting their guard down and visiting each other without their masks on in small homes.”
The lack of running water in hundreds of homes in the region also likely plays a role in high rates of transmission in the region, he said. The region’s surge in cases, coupled with high hospitalizations in Anchorage, has caused delays in several medevacs from the Bethel hospital in the past two weeks. The hospital has no ICU.
Statewide, 131 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized by Tuesday and another 13 patients were awaiting test results. Twenty-one confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients were on ventilators, according to state data.
With new daily case counts topping 500, and deaths and hospitalizations rising, health officials express increasing concerns about the sustainability of Alaska’s already stressed health care system. Health officials in Alaska and nationwide begged people to reconsider holiday plans as Thanksgiving approaches.
The recent surge in cases has overwhelmed the state’s contact tracing capacity. On Monday, officials issued an alert urging COVID-positive Alaskans to personally notify close contacts. A data backlog means the total number of reported cases probably lags behind the number of positive tests statewide.
Of the 578 new cases reported Tuesday among Alaska residents, 328 were in Anchorage, plus seven in Chugiak, 38 in Eagle River and two in Girdwood; one in Anchor Point, one in Fritz Creek, five in Homer, 16 in Kenai, one in Nikiski, two in Seward, 20 in Soldotna and two in Sterling; 13 in Kodiak; five in Cordova; 13 in Fairbanks and six in North Pole; six in Delta Junction; nine in Palmer and 28 in Wasilla; 14 in Nome; 12 in Utqiagvik; three in Kotzebue; one in Douglas and six in Juneau; one in Sitka; and 15 in Bethel.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that are not named to protect privacy, there were two in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; two in the Kodiak Island Borough; one in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; four in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Nome Census Area; one in the Northwest Arctic Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; two in the Aleutians East Borough; one in the Aleutians West Census Area; seven in the Bethel Census Area; and one in the Kusilvak Census Area.
Five cases were reported Tuesday among nonresidents: one in Eagle River, one in the Northwest Arctic Borough and three in unidentified regions of the state.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only 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, 28,863 Alaskans and nonresidents in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 since March.
The state’s positivity rate as of Tuesday dropped to 6.78%. Health officials have warned that a positivity rate above 5% means there is high community transmission.
—Annie Berman and Zaz Hollander