Alaska on Tuesday reported 116 new coronavirus infections and the COVID-19-related death of a Wasilla resident, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
Tuesday’s case count is part of a trend of over a month of steadily declining cases. Alaska saw a surge of infections in November and early December that strained hospital capacity before leveling off, though counts are still higher than they were for most of last spring and early summer.
Hospitalizations in Alaska have declined along with cases, and are now less than a third of where they were during the peak in November and December. By Tuesday, there were 34 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, including six that were on ventilators. Another patient was believed to have the virus.
Nationwide, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been falling since January.
One death involving an Alaska resident was reported Tuesday. In total, 278 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. Over 462,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. so far.
The COVID-19 vaccine reached Alaska in mid-December. By Tuesday, 110,626 — over 15% 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 9.7%.
Among Alaskans 16 and older, nearly 20% had received at least one dose of vaccine by Tuesday. 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 initially filled quickly. Seniors and other eligible health care workers can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 for assistance making an appointment.
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. A highly contagious variant of the virus reached Alaska last month.
Of the 106 cases announced Tuesday among Alaska residents, there were 32 in Anchorage plus one in Chugiak and five in Eagle River; one in Homer; two in Sterling; three in Fairbanks; one in Delta Junction; one in Big Lake; nine in Palmer; 20 in Wasilla; one in Kotzebue; one in Juneau; one in Unalaska; and three in Bethel.
Among communities with populations under 1,000 not named to protect privacy, there was one in the Nome Census Area; 21 in the Bethel Census Area; one in Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs; and two in the Kusilvak Census Area.
There were also 10 cases among nonresidents in Alaska reported Tuesday: two in Anchorage, four in the Aleutians East Borough, one in Unalaska, two in the North Slope Borough and one in an unidentified region of the state.
Just under half of the workers at an Aleutian Islands seafood processing plant — most of them nonresidents — 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.
— Annie Berman