Alaska reported 495 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and no new deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
New virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been on the rise statewide for weeks, but this week has marked lower daily case counts.
In total, 182 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 the state’s vast geography and vulnerable health care system complicate comparisons with other states.
By Friday, there were 122 people with COVID-19 hospitalized statewide and another eight people in hospitals who were suspected to have the virus. In total, 14.3% of adults hospitalized in Alaska had COVID-19.
Throughout the state there were 31 staffed adult intensive care unit beds left open. In Anchorage, where the state’s sickest patients often end up, only four of 70 intensive care unit beds were available.
While stretched hospital staffing has remained a significant concern, health and hospital officials say facilities can shift staffing and scheduled procedures to increase capacity.
State models indicate the curve of new infections is flattening, though officials caution it’s too early to relax precautions like masking and social distancing. They say one reason for the drop may be Anchorage’s monthlong modified hunker-down order enacted to protect hospital capacity.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s hope,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer with Anchorage Health Department.
This week also marked the state’s first COVID-19 vaccinations for hospital and other front-line workers. It’s unclear exactly when the general public will have access to a vaccine, but health officials have said that seems likely to occur in late spring or summer.
“Those that are receiving the shots now will be fully protected by late January,” said Heather Harris, director of the Anchorage Health Department, during a Friday media briefing.
“This means that it is critical that we hold on for the next two to three months, for the most vulnerable to also be protected.”
Of the 485 new cases reported among Alaska residents Friday, there were 184 in Anchorage, plus eight in Eagle River, four in Chugiak and two in Girdwood; 65 in Fairbanks and 22 in North Pole; 40 in Wasilla, 20 in Palmer, two in Willow and one in Meadow Lakes; 25 in Kenai, 18 in Soldotna, five in Nikiski, four in Homer, four in Seward and one in Sterling; 17 in Kodiak; 16 in Utqiagvik; nine in Juneau; six in Sitka; four in Bethel; two in Delta Junction; two in Haines; two in Craig; one in Ketchikan; one in Valdez; one in Chevak; one in Wrangell; and one in an unknown community.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were two on the northern Kenai Peninsula; one in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; two in the Denali Borough; five in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; two in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; and three in the Bethel Census Area.
Of the 10 new cases reported among nonresidents, there were two in Unalaska, one in Fairbanks and seven in an unidentified 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 5.9% over the last week, after reaching a peak of over 9% in mid-November. Health officials say a positivity rate above 5% can indicate inadequate testing and potentially widespread community transmission.
— Zaz Hollander and Annie Berman
• • •