Alaska reported nine additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 476 new infections on the start of the new year, according to a statement from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the deaths reported Friday was recent, while the other eight were discovered through death certificate reviews over the previous several months. In total, 214 Alaskans and one nonresident with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began here in March.
A Kenai woman in her 70s died recently, the health department said. The eight other deaths reported Friday included: an Anchorage man in his 90s, an Anchorage man in his 80s, an Anchorage woman in her 70s and an Anchorage woman in her 80s; a Wasilla man in his 90s, a Wasilla woman in her 80s; a Utqiagvik man in his 80s; and a Ketchikan woman in her 50s who died while out of state.
Death is a lagging indicator, meaning they often happen after a surge in cases, and half of Alaska’s virus deaths were reported in the last six weeks. 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 476 new COVID-19 cases reported on New Year’s Day comes after a trend of lower cases reported in recent weeks following a surge that gripped the state in November and early December. The surge had caused officials to worry about hospital capacity and staffing as hospitalizations related to the virus rose significantly during the earlier surge.
Those concerns led Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson to implement a monthlong hunker-down order for the municipality that closed indoor services at bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities in order to mitigate the virus’ spread. New Year’s Day marks the first day many of those businesses are able to fully reopen, although capacity restrictions are still in effect.
The state health department reported there were five new hospitalizations reported Friday, although it was not immediately clear how many Alaskans with the virus were still in the hospital, because the daily COVID-19 dashboard is not updated on the holiday. In total, there have been 1,008 hospitalizations related to the virus since March. During the last few weeks, hospitalizations have decreased statewide.
Of the 463 new cases reported Friday in Alaska residents, 191 were in Anchorage, 20 in Eagle River, three in Girdwood and one in Chugiak; 46 were in Wasilla, five in Houston, 20 in Palmer, one in Sutton-Alpine and one in Big Lake; five were in Ketchikan, three in Kenai, three in Soldotna, two in Homer one in Sterling and one in Seward; 40 were in Fairbanks and 15 in North Pole; one was in Delta Junction; 17 were in Bethel; 11 were in Kodiak; five were in Utqiagvik; three were in Unalaska; one was in Chevak; one was in Cordova; one was in Juneau; and one was in Kotzebue.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were 29 in the Kusilvak Census Area; 16 in the Bethel Census Area; seven in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area and Copper River; two in the Bristol Bay lake and peninsula boroughs; two in the North Slope Borough; two in the Northwest Arctic Borough; one in the Dillingham Census Area; one in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the Nome Census Area; one in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; and one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon area.
Thirteen nonresidents tested positive for COVID-19, including one in Anchorage involved in the North Slope oil industry and three other people in Anchorage, one person in Wasilla and one person in Unalaska. The state health department identified seven additional cases in nonresidents with the locations under investigation.
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.
Vaccines first reached Alaska in mid-December. During the last few weeks of the year, health care workers, emergency personnel and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Older Alaskans and essential workers are among those next in line to receive the vaccine.