Alaska on Friday reported 250 new coronavirus infections and no new deaths related to COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
The latest count follows over a month of declining cases. Alaska saw a surge of infections in November and early December that strained hospital capacity. For the first time since September, daily case counts fell into the double digits twice last week.
Hospitalizations have fallen along with cases, and are now less than a third of where they were during the peak in November and December. By Friday, there were 40 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state. Another three patients were believed to have the virus.
No new deaths were reported Thursday. In total, 277 Alaskans and two nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state in March. Alaska’s death rate per capita is still among the lowest in the country, but the state’s size and vulnerable health care system complicate national comparisons.
The COVID-19 vaccine reached Alaska in mid-December. By Thursday, 101,631 — nearly 14% of Alaska’s total population — had received at least their first vaccine shot, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard. That’s far above the national average of 8.4%.
Among Alaskans 16 and older, 18% had received at least one dose of vaccine by Friday. The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use for people aged 16 and older, and Moderna’s has been cleared for use in people 18 and older.
Health care workers and nursing home staff and residents were the first people prioritized to receive the vaccine. In early January, the state said Alaskans older than 65 were now eligible, although appointment slots are limited and have filled quickly.
Thousands of new vaccine appointments went live on the state’s website last week, many of which are still available. Seniors and other eligible health care workers can call 907-646-3322 for assistance making an appointment.
Mass vaccination clinics, like a walk-up clinic offered by the Anchorage School District on Feb. 11-13, will continue to be announced throughout the month, health officials said.
Despite the lower case numbers throughout January, Alaska is still in the highest alert category based on the current per capita rate of infection, and public health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to keep up with personal virus mitigation efforts like hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing.
Scientists at the state’s public health labs confirmed last week that a highly contagious variant of the virus reached Alaska last month.
Of the 163 cases announced among Alaska residents Friday, there were 41 in Anchorage plus three in Eagle River; one in Anchor Point; one in Seward; one in Soldotna; one in Cordova; 13 in Fairbanks plus one in North Pole; one in Delta Junction; 17 in Palmer; 33 in Wasilla; six in Juneau; four in Ketchikan; one in Sitka; and six in Bethel.
Among communities with populations under 1,000 not named to protect privacy, there were two in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, one in the Aleutians East Borough; 23 in the Bethel Census Area; one in the Dillingham Census Area; and six in the Kusilvak Census Area.
There were also 87 cases among nonresidents in Alaska, including two in Anchorage, 80 in the Aleutians East Borough; and five in Unalaska.
Nearly half of the workers at an Aleutians Island seafood processing plant have tested positive for the virus since an outbreak began there in January.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.
Across the state, 2.45% of COVID-19 tests conducted over the past week have come back positive.
— Annie Berman