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Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 3 deaths, 374 infections reported Thursday

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: December 31, 2020
  • Published December 31, 2020
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Alaska on Thursday reported 374 new COVID-19 infections and three more deaths, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

The deaths involved three men in their 70s: two from Wasilla and one from Anchorage, the state health department said.

Wednesday’s and Thursday’s identical case counts were slightly higher than the trend of fewer cases reported in recent weeks after a surge through November and into early December. State health officials have expressed cautious optimism about the overall decline, though more recently they expressed worry that holiday-related travel and celebrations could drive case numbers up again.

“We know that some people are still gathering for the holidays, so we could start to see an uptick in cases starting as early as the next week or two, so we’re really just encouraging Alaskans to continue to be vigilant,” said Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state health department.

Residents in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region accounted for more than a quarter of the cases reported by the state Thursday. Tribal health authorities separately reported 43 new cases in the region on Wednesday and 26 cases on Tuesday, including 18 in Bethel, 13 in Akiachak and 12 in Chefornak over that two-day period.

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations remain lower than they were in November. Health officials say a hunker-down order in Anchorage that’s moving to a less restrictive phase Friday played a role in the decline, as did voluntary actions taken by people around the state. The number of tests completed statewide in recent weeks has also been down.

In total, 205 Alaskans and one nonresident with COVID-19 have died this year. 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 make it difficult to compare with other states.

The state was promised more than 60,000 doses when Alaska received its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December. Hospital workers, emergency personnel, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities were prioritized to receive the first doses. State officials said they expect more than 50,000 doses next month and on Thursday announced that the next group of people eligible to receive the vaccine would include Alaskans over 65, followed by “frontline essential workers.”

By Thursday morning, 13,271 Alaskans had received vaccinations, according to the state’s vaccine information site, which has not been updated since Monday. Health officials say they expect the pace of vaccine distribution will pick up in next month.

Around the state, 73 Alaskans with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Thursday and another six were suspected to have the virus. Just over 8% of adults in Alaska hospitals have COVID-19. In Anchorage, where the sickest patients are often treated, there were 18 intensive care unit beds available out of 69.

Of the 367 infections reported Wednesday among Alaska residents, there were 130 in Anchorage plus six in Chugiak, seven in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; 27 in Fairbanks; 20 in Wasilla; 10 in Palmer; 10 in Juneau; 10 in Bethel; seven in North Pole; six in Kodiak; four in Utqiagvik; three in Soldotna; two in Homer; two in Kenai; two in Houston; two in Petersburg; two in Unalaska; one in Sterling; one in Delta Junction; one in Sutton-Alpine; and one in Ketchikan.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were 51 in the Bethel Census Area; 50 in the Kusilvak Census Area; three in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; two 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 Northwest Arctic Borough; one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon region; and one in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs.

There were seven cases reported among nonresidents, including one in Anchorage, one in Utqiagvik and five in Unalaska.

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 were showing symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about a third of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

The statewide test positivity rate as of Thursday was 4.92% over a seven-day average. Health experts say anything above 5% can indicate inadequate testing and potentially widespread community transmission. The state reached a peak of over 9% test positivity in mid-November.

— Annie Berman

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