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Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: Nonresident seafood worker dies with infection

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 3
  • Published March 3
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Alaska on Wednesday reported 189 new coronavirus infections and one new nonresident death 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 new death involved a man in his 70s in the Aleutians East Borough who worked in the seafood industry, according to the health department.

In total, 299 Alaskans and four 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 Wednesday, 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 Wednesday, more than 513,00 deaths linked to the coronavirus had been reported in the U.S.

The COVID-19 vaccine reached Alaska in mid-December. By Wednesday, 158,680 people — about 21.7% of Alaska’s total population — had received at least their first vaccine shot, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard. That’s above the national average of 15.6%.

Among Alaskans 16 and older, 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.

On Wednesday, the state announced that essential workers and people with potentially high risk health conditions age 16 and older as well as people who live in communities that lack water or sewer systems, in multigenerational homes, or are 55 and older are also eligible for the vaccine.

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 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 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 173 cases identified in Alaska residents, there were 47 in Anchorage, plus three in Chugiak, three in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; two in Cordova; three in Homer; one in Kenai; one in Soldotna; 18 in Fairbanks; two in North Pole; two in Delta Junction; one in Big Lake; 15 in Palmer; one in Sutton-Alpine; 35 in Wasilla; one in Willow; five in Juneau; 13 in Petersburg; one in Metlakatla; one in Sitka; two in Bethel; and one in Dillingham.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 not named to protect individuals’ privacy, there were two in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough, nine in the Bethel Census Area and one in the Kusilvak Census Area.

There were also 16 new nonresident cases, 14 of them in Unalaska, including 13 among seafood industry workers. There was one nonresident case reported in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and one in Anchorage.

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

[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 14 new nonresident cases were reported in the Aleutians East Borough. Rather, they were identified in Unalaska, within the Aleutians West Census Area.]