Alaska reported 190 new coronavirus infections and no deaths related to COVID-19 on Thursday, 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 are now less than a quarter of what they were in November and December.
By Thursday, there were 41 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, including five on ventilators. Another four patients were believed to have the virus.
No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported Thursday. 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 Thursday, 149,992 people — 21% 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 13.6%.
Among Alaskans 16 and older, 27% 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 95,257 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. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 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.
While most regions of the state have seen declining cases, the Matanuska-Susitna region has recently seen a spike in new infections, and this week surpassed the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to record the highest average daily case rate in the state.
Of the 149 cases reported among Alaska residents on Thursday, there were 31 in Anchorage, plus two in Chugiak, two in Eagle River and three in Girdwood; 11 in Cordova; one in Soldotna; one in Ester; 23 in Fairbanks; four in North Pole; one in Delta Junction; 10 in Palmer; four in Sutton-Alpine; 32 in Wasilla; one in Nome; one in Juneau; seven in Ketchikan; and 10 in Petersburg.
In communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there was one in the Prince of Wales and Hyder Census Area; two in the Bethel Census Area; and one in Dillingham.
There were also 41 nonresident cases including one in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks, one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, one in Juneau, 34 in Unalaska and three in an unidentified region of the state.
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