Alaska’s daily COVID-19 case tally surged to a record 933 new cases reported Saturday as officials announced the death of another Alaskan infected with the coronavirus.
Saturday’s daily case tally is by far the most reported in a single day so far during the pandemic, according to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. It’s the second time this week that a daily record for new cases has been set, after 760 cases were recorded Thursday (followed closely by Friday’s near-record total of 756 cases).
The consistently high daily case counts are translating to more deaths and hospitalizations that are stressing the health care system, Alaska health officials say.
The death reported Saturday involved an Anchorage woman in her 70s, according to the state health department, and follows the 12 deaths reported Friday. In total, 142 Alaskans and one nonresident have died with the virus since it was first detected here in March. While the state’s overall death rate per capita remains one of the lowest in the country, state officials say it’s difficult to compare Alaska to other states because of its unique geography and vulnerable health care system.
State health officials say the daily reports underestimate the true number of virus cases because of a backlog in public health data. Also, health experts nationwide have braced for an increase in cases after gatherings and travel over the Thanksgiving holiday.
In Alaska, health officials continue to report that shrinking hospital capacity and limited staffing pose a significant concern statewide.
By Saturday, ICU capacity in Alaska was in the red zone, or more than 75% full. There were 150 people hospitalized with COVID-19, along with 14 people with suspected infections. Thirty adult intensive care unit beds were available out of 128, and 16.1% of the adult hospitalizations in Alaska were COVID-related.
State data showed just five adult ICU beds available Friday in Anchorage hospitals, where the state’s sickest patients tend to end up.
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Of the 908 new cases reported by the state Saturday among Alaska residents, there were 298 in Anchorage, plus 22 in Eagle River, six in Chugiak and one in Girdwood; 177 in Wasilla, 35 in Palmer and five in Big Lake; 89 in Fairbanks, 34 in North Pole and one in Ester; 36 in Kenai, 33 in Soldotna, five in Sterling, four in Homer, four in Nikiski and two in Seward; 19 in Kodiak; 12 in Bethel; 11 in Delta Junction; five in Utqiagvik; five in Sitka; four in Juneau; four in Ketchikan; two in Craig and one in Metlakatla; two in Dillingham; one in Cordova and one in Valdez; one in Healy; one in Kotzebue; and one in Chevak.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were 39 resident cases in the Bethel Census Area; 24 in the Kusilvak Census Area; 12 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; five in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; one in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; one in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs; and one in the Dillingham Census Area.
Twenty-five cases were reported among nonresidents: seven in Fairbanks, three in Anchorage, two in smaller North Slope Borough communities, one in Kenai, one in Utqiagvik, one in Unalaska and 10 in unidentified regions of the state.
All regions in Alaska as of Saturday were in a high alert status, reflecting the average daily case rate over 14 days per 100,000. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region has the highest average rate, at 174.29 cases per 100,000, followed by Mat-Su with 142.94 cases per 100,000.
State 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 co-worker.
Travel is also currently considered a high-risk activity.
The Centers for Disease Control announced this week 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.
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.
As of Saturday, the state had an average positivity rate of 7.24% 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.
-- Emily Goodykoontz