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Alaska News

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 2 deaths, 616 new infections reported Wednesday

  • Author: Annie Berman
  • Updated: December 16, 2020
  • Published December 16, 2020
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Alaska on Wednesday reported 616 new COVID-19 infections and two new deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

The two deaths were of an Anchorage resident in his 60s and a Chugiak resident in his 60s, the first from that Anchorage suburb.

Wednesday’s higher case count followed a dip to 284 cases reported Tuesday, the lowest in nearly two months and coming two weeks after Anchorage entered a monthlong modified version of a hunker-down aimed at bringing case counts down and protecting hospital capacity.

State health officials said Wednesday that overall trend in new virus cases appears to be flattening, and that the data team is also no longer working through a previously reported backlog of cases.

But officials urged Alaskans to remain cautious.

“We really need to make sure especially as we head into the Christmas holidays that we’re remaining vigilant, and keeping up with personal mitigation strategies,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state.

Very limited vaccine distribution is now underway across the state, but most Alaskans won’t have access to a vaccine for many more months. And hospitals around the state continue to report significant staffing and capacity concerns.

By Wednesday, there were 137 people with COVID-19 hospitalized statewide and another nine in hospitals who were suspected to have the virus. In total, 14.5% of people hospitalized in Alaska had COVID-19.

Throughout the state there were 31 staffed adult intensive care unit beds left open. But in Anchorage, where the state’s sickest patients often end up, just three of 73 intensive care unit beds were available.

“We continue to watch the beds available super closely across the state,” said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer on Wednesday.

In total, 180 Alaskans and one nonresident with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began here in March. Alaska’s overall death rate per capita is among the lowest in the country, but officials say it’s difficult to compare Alaska to other states because of its vast geography and vulnerable health care system.

Of the 604 new cases reported in Alaska residents Wednesday, there were 204 in Anchorage, plus nine in Chugiak and 14 in Eagle River; six in Homer; 28 in Kenai; one in Nikiski; 14 in Soldotna; three in Sterling; 30 in Kodiak; two in Cordova; two in Valdez; one in Healy; 33 in Fairbanks plus 13 in North Pole; one in Delta Junction; two in Tok; one in Big Lake; 34 in Palmer; 84 in Wasilla; two in Willow; five in Nome; 13 in Utqiagvik; three in Sitka; one in Unalaska; and 22 in Bethel.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 residents not named to protect privacy, there were five in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; plus three in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the Kodiak Island Borough; four in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; four in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; seven in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two in the Mat-Su; one in the North Slope Borough; two in the Bethel Census Area; and 11 in the Kusilvak Census Area.

Of the 12 new cases reported in nonresidents, there were two in Anchorage, one in Kenai, one in Fairbanks, one in Wasilla, three in Unalaska, and four in an unknown region of the state.

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 were showing symptoms. The CDC estimates about a third of people with coronavirus infections are asymptomatic.

The statewide test positivity rate was 6.52% over the last week, after reaching a peak of over 9% in mid-November. Health officials said that a positivity rate above 5% can indicate widespread community transmission.