Alaska on Tuesday reported 159 new coronavirus infections and two new deaths related to COVID-19, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.
Generally, the latest daily count continues a trend in Alaska of declining infections over the last three months. Hospitalizations are now far below what they were during a peak in November and December that strained hospital capacity.
The fishing industry continues to grapple with outbreaks, however. On Tuesday, 34 new cases were reported in nonresidents in Unalaska, a fishing vessel and processing plant hub where seasonal workers often come from out of state.
The state reported the death of an Anchorage woman 80 or older and a Wasilla man in his 60s who died out of state, health officials said.
In total, 299 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.
By Tuesday, there were 23 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state. Another three patients had test results pending.
Nationwide, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been falling since January.
By Tuesday, more than 513,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus had been reported in the U.S.
The COVID-19 vaccine reached Alaska in mid-December. By Tuesday, 157,521 people — about 21.6% 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 15.3%.
Among Alaskans 16 and older, nearly 28% 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 105,085 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 in February 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.
Last week, 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.
In Anchorage, Alaskans 40 and older can now get vaccinated through Southcentral Foundation, the health care organization announced Monday.
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 in Brazil was found in the state last month. Scientists in Alaska last week announced the discovery of 10 cases of a new coronavirus strain first discovered in California.
Of the 124 cases identified in Alaska residents, there were 39 in Anchorage plus two in Chugiak; one in Cordova; one in Homer, one in Kenai, and one in Soldotna; 10 in Fairbanks and two in North Pole; one in Tok; 10 in Palmer, one in Sutton-Alpine, and 25 in Wasilla; one in Utqiagvik; one in Juneau; one in Ketchikan; six in Petersburg; three in Sitka; and one in Dillingham.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 not named to protect their privacy, there was one in Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; one in Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon; seven in Bethel Census Area; and eight in Kusilvak Census Area.
There were also 35 new nonresident cases, all of them seafood workers: 34 in Unalaska and one in Aleutians East Borough. The City of Unalaska was reporting 34 active cases there as of Tuesday, all connected to the seafood industry. Still, a decrease in cases overall prompted the city to lower its local risk factor to “medium” and the city council will consider easing COVID-19 health mandates at a meeting Wednesday.
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.
The average percentage of daily positive tests over the last week was 2.25%.
— Zaz Hollander