Alaska reported 179 new coronavirus infections and no deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
The newest case count is part of a trend in Alaska of declining infections over the last two months, following a peak in November and early December that strained hospital capacity. Hospitalizations in Alaska are now less than a quarter of what they were in November and December.
By Wednesday, there were 37 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, including four on ventilators. Another nine patients were believed to have the virus.
No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported Wednesday. In total, 287 Alaskans and three 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 Wednesday, 146,778 people — more than 20% 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 13.4%.
Among Alaskans 16 and older, 26% had received at least one dose of vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use for people ages 16 and older, and Moderna’s has been cleared for use in people 18 and older. At least 92,630 people had received both doses of the vaccine. Alaska has currently vaccinated more residents per capita than any other state, according to a national tracker.
Health care workers and nursing home staff and residents were the first people prioritized to receive the vaccine. Alaskans older than 65 became eligible in early January, and the state further widened eligibility criteria this month to include educators, people 50 and older with a high-risk medical condition, front-line essential workers 50 and older and people living or working in congregate settings like shelters and prisons. On Wednesday, officials said people who help Alaskans 65 and older get a vaccination are now eligible to get a vaccine.
Those eligible to receive the vaccine can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up and to confirm eligibility. The phone line is staffed 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekends.
Despite the lower case numbers, most regions in Alaska are 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 U.K. variant of the virus reached Alaska in December, while a separate variant that originated from Brazil was found in the state this month.
The Matanuska-Susitna region surpassed the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta this week to record the highest average daily case rate in the state. As of Wednesday, the Mat-Su has seen 34.41 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days.
Of the 175 cases reported among Alaska residents on Wednesday, there were 44 in Anchorage, three in Chugiak, seven in Eagle River and two in Girdwood; two in Cordova; one in Homer; one in Nikiski; one in Seward; 18 in Fairbanks; seven in North Pole; 16 in Palmer; 37 in Wasilla; one in Kotzebue; three in Juneau; 10 in Ketchikan; 10 in Petersburg; and one in Skagway.
In communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there was one case in the Copper River Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the Nome Census Area; six in the Bethel Census Area; and two in the Kusilvak Census Area.
There were also four nonresident cases including one in Fairbanks; one in Delta Junction; one in Unalaska; and one in an unidentified part of the sate.
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.
— Morgan Krakow