Alaska reported three new deaths related to COVID-19 and 589 new cases on Monday.
Case counts have spiked in the past month, repeatedly setting daily records. Health officials nationwide expected to see an uptick in infections in the weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, when more Americans may have gathered or traveled. The climbing case numbers have translated to an increase in both hospitalizations and deaths.
The three deaths reported Monday all occurred recently and involved an Anchorage man in his 50s, an Anchorage man in his 60s and a Seward man in his 50s, the state health department said.
In total, 145 Alaskans and one nonresident with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began here in March, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Alaska’s overall death rate per capita is one of the lowest in the country, but state officials say it’s difficult to compare Alaska to other states because of its vast geography and vulnerable health care system.
Last week included the state’s highest ever daily reported case tally, with 933 reported Saturday. As infections continue to rise, so does concern from officials about potential for the state’s hospitals becoming overwhelmed.
By Monday, 151 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized and another 15 people in hospitals were suspected to be infected with the virus. Twenty-four people with COVID-19 were on ventilators and 45 intensive care unit beds were available across the state. COVID-19 patients accounted for about 15% of the state’s entire hospitalizations.
In Anchorage, where the sickest patients often end up, there were 18 intensive care unit beds open, an increase from Sunday, when only 10 beds were available. More than 75% of non-intensive inpatient beds were filled in the city Monday, with 105 remaining available out of 523.
State health officials have repeatedly expressed concern that limited hospital staffing in Alaska could also pose problems as the virus continues to spread.
Concern over staffing and hospital capacity led Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson to impose a monthlong “hunker down” that began last week. The emergency order places restrictions on indoor dining service at bars and restaurants, limiting them to takeout, delivery or outdoor dining.
Quinn-Davidson contracted COVID-19 in late November and received a positive test result Saturday, the municipality said.
People in congregate settings are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because the close contact in an enclosed setting can easily spread the virus. An outbreak continued to rage in the state’s largest prison last week. More than half of the inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Mat-Su have tested positive.
An outbreak was reported among a seafood fishing vessel docked in Dutch Harbor on Friday, said Marjie Veeder, Unalaska’s city clerk. Most of the cases were included in Monday’s case count.
All but one of the 25 crew members on board the U.S. Seafoods Legacy fishing vessel tested positive for the virus, the city said Friday. The one person who tested negative for COVID-19 is segregated on the ship. Veeder said Monday that some of the crew members are showing symptoms, although none are seriously ill.
None of the crew members got off the boat after docking in Unalaska, and Veeder said they plan to remain docked there until they are done with their isolation period.
“The weather over this weekend was pretty bad and the next couple of days in the Gulf of Alaska is supposed to be really bad, as well,” she said. “Just the thought of them leaving with sick crew members and not everyone at 100% ... if you’ve got 130-foot seas, you don’t want sick people having to try to run the boat.”
There have been numerous outbreaks reported on fishing and seafood vessels since the pandemic began in Alaska in March.
Of the 557 cases reported among Alaska residents Monday, there were 222 in Anchorage, plus 12 in Chugiak and 42 in Eagle River; four in Homer, 10 in Kenai, two in Nikiski, six in Soldotna and three in Sterling; 38 in Kodiak; two in Valdez; 35 in Fairbanks and seven in North Pole; five in Delta Junction; two in Big Lake, 26 in Palmer, 87 in Wasilla and one in Willow; two in Nome; three in Utqiagvik; one in Haines; two in Juneau; one in Sitka; one in Wrangell; 16 in Bethel; and one in an unidentified region of the state.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there was one resident case in the northern portion of the Kenai Peninsula Borough; three in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; one in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; one in the Aleutians East Borough; seven in the Bethel Census Area; and 11 in the Kusilvak Census Area.
The state also reported that 32 nonresidents in Alaska tested positive for COVID-19, including one in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks, one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, one in Wasilla, one in Juneau and 20 in Unalaska related to the fishing vessel outbreak. The state classified seven of the cases as unknown.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
It is not clear how many of the people who tested positive for the virus Monday were showing symptoms when they were tested. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about a third of people with coronavirus infections are asymptomatic.
State health officials continue to ask 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.
There was a 6.5% test positivity rate over the last seven days. Health officials have warned that a positivity rate above 5% indicates widespread community transmission.
More than 280,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by Monday, the CDC reported. There have been more than 14 million reported infections.
— Tess Williams
• • •