Alaska on Thursday reported eight deaths and a daily record of 760 new cases of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
The deaths included four Anchorage men in their 70s, an Anchorage man in his 80s, a man from a smaller community in the Kusilvak Census Area in his 30s, a Bethel woman in her 50s and a Bethel woman in her 80s. All the deaths occurred recently, the state health department said.
In total, 129 Alaskans with COVID-19 have died since the virus was first detected here in March. While Alaska’s overall death rate per capita remains one of the lowest in the country, state officials have said it is difficult to compare Alaska to other states because of its unique geography and vulnerable health care system.
Officials continue to report that shrinking hospital capacity and limited staffing pose a significant concern statewide.
By Thursday, ICU capacity in Alaska was in the red zone, or more than 75% full. There were 144 people hospitalized with COVID-19, along with another 13 people with suspected infections. Just 24 adult intensive care unit beds were available out of 127, and 13.6% of total hospitalizations in Alaska were COVID-related.
Forty-seven people were newly admitted to hospitals with COVID last week, nearly double the number of new hospitalizations that were reported the week before, according to a weekly update sent out by the state.
Of the 755 new cases reported by the state Thursday among Alaska residents, there were 272 in Anchorage, plus 34 in Eagle River, 15 in Chugiak and one in Girdwood; 160 in Wasilla, 33 in Palmer, two in Big Lake and one in Willow; 57 in Kodiak; 27 in Soldotna, 11 in Kenai, seven in Homer, seven in Sterling, four in Seward, two in Nikiski, one in Anchor Point; 17 in Fairbanks and 12 in North Pole; 16 in Bethel; 11 in Utqiagvik; seven in Delta Junction; seven in Sitka; six in Ketchikan; five in Nome; four in Juneau; two in Valdez; two in Kotzebue; two in Craig; one in Petersburg; one in Chevak; and one in an unidentified part of the state.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were seven resident cases in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four in the Bethel Census Area; two in the Kodiak Island Borough; two in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; two in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough; two in the Aleutians East Borough; two in the Kusilvak Census Area; one in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the Denali Borough; one in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Nome Census Area; and one in the Northwest Arctic Borough.
Five cases were reported among nonresidents: one in Soldotna, one in Prudhoe Bay, one in a smaller North Slope Borough community and two in unidentified regions of the state.
Alaska’s continued surge is part of a national trend. The U.S. on Wednesday reported its highest single-day death toll: more than 3,100 deaths in one day, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Officials in Alaska and nationwide have expressed worry that gatherings and travel over the Thanksgiving holiday a week ago could lead to continued high counts, hospitalizations and deaths. Those counts are likely to begin showing up in the data soon, they say.
While all regions in Alaska as of Thursday were in a high alert status, the largest increases in case rates over the last week were in the Mat-Su and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which rose by 64% and 29% respectively, according to the state.
An outbreak in Kodiak also continued to grow this week, with the most cases reported on the island in a single day on Thursday. The first virus-related death there has occurred this week, according to the city’s emergency operations center.
Anchorage this week entered a modified, monthlong “hunker down” in order to curb high rates of virus spread and protect health care capacity. According to a modeling tool developed by Georgia Tech University, there’s now a 50% chance that at least one person at a 15-person gathering in Anchorage will be infected with COVID-19.
Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members, and report that most Alaskans who contract the virus get it from a friend, family member or coworker.
Travel is also currently considered a high-risk activity: This week, around 1 in 16 passengers tested after arriving at Alaska airports from out of state had positive results.
More than 1 million tests have been performed in Alaska since March. While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
Among the new cases, the state does not report how many people show symptoms when they test positive. The CDC estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.
On Thursday, the state had an average positivity rate of 6.66% over the last seven days. Health officials warn that a positivity rate over 5% can mean there is not enough broad testing occurring in a community.
The CDC announced yesterday it was revising its quarantine guidance to allow people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to shorten their quarantine period from two weeks to as few as seven days with a negative COVID-19 test.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a statement that it has reviewed the updated CDC guidance and supports the new options for shortening a post-exposure quarantine.
— Annie Berman