Alaska’s latest COVID-19 surge accelerated this week as state health officials reported 376 new cases for Tuesday alone, the highest single-day tally since early January before the vaccine was widely available.
Two new deaths were also reported by the state: an Anchorage man and a Soldotna man, both in their 70s.
A Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta resident in their 80s also died due to complications of COVID-19 on Monday, according to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. That’s in addition to 379 Alaskans who have died with the virus as reported by the state.
The state reported 526 new infections total for Monday and Tuesday including 55 nonresident cases, another relatively high number, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard.
Nearly half the new nonresident cases, or 27, came out of the seafood industry in Unalaska, according to a state health department spokesperson. The remaining cases were scattered around the state in small numbers.
Hospitalizations around the state, especially in Anchorage, are also at levels not seen since the winter. The state was reporting 94 people with COVID-19 hospitalized as of Wednesday.
The highly contagious delta variant first identified in Alaska in May is fueling a “rapid acceleration phase” right now, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said in a briefing Wednesday. “Most of this is driven by people who are unvaccinated.”
Multiple communities statewide are seeing sharp rises in cases. More than half of the newly reported cases were in the Anchorage area.
Officials in the City and Borough of Juneau reported 29 new resident cases over two days. The assembly was meeting Wednesday night to decide whether to extend emergency declaration. An outbreak in Sitka that has sent over a dozen people to the local hospital continued to grow, with 28 cases reported over Monday and Tuesday.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim region also reported 28 cases over two days, plus a new hospitalization.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations Monday urging people in areas where coronavirus transmission is classified as substantial or high to wear masks when they are indoors in public places.
Most regions of Alaska are at the highest alert level.
“There have been changes in the virus, which have resulted in changes in the science, which have resulted in changes in the messaging from the CDC and from us,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said during a briefing Wednesday.
Zink said fully vaccinated Alaskans with a known close contact that tested positive for the virus should consider getting tested, as should anyone who is experiencing any symptoms of the virus, regardless of vaccination status.
Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to get vaccinated, noting that the vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, including from the more contagious variants.
By Wednesday, almost 48% of all Alaskans had received one dose, and just over 43% were fully vaccinated. The national average of the total U.S. population that’s fully vaccinated is 50%.
People vaccinated against the virus are protected against getting the disease as well as more severe illness but can spread the new variant, state health officials say. If someone gets infected, the viral load or amount of virus in an infected person’s nose or mouth is about the same whether they’re vaccinated or not, McLaughlin said.
The delta variant also appears to incubate more quickly: The interval between exposure and the first positive test is just shy of four days rather than six, he said.
Both findings put new importance on getting tested as soon as symptoms appear, officials say.
Of the 471 new cases reported in residents Wednesday, there were 177 in Anchorage; 29 in Juneau; 28 in Sitka; 25 in Eagle River; 21 in Wasilla; 16 in Fairbanks; 15 in Cordova; nine in Kenai, eight in Kodiak and Soldotna; seven in Chugiak, Palmer, and Tok; six in North Pole; five in Craig, Ketchikan and Unalaska; four in Big Lake, Seward, Sterling, and Valdez; three in Bethel; two each in Utqiaġvik, Wrangell; and one each in Dillingham, Douglas, Ester, Hooper Bay, Nome, and Sutton-Alpine.
Among communities under 1,000 not identified out of confidentiality concerns, there were 22 in Bethel Census Area; 12 in Copper River Census Area; five in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four each in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough and Prince Of Wales-Hyder Census Area; three in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two each in Fairbanks North Star Borough, Kusilvak Census Area, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Northwest Arctic Borough, Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; and one in each in Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs, Denali Borough, Nome Census Area, and Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon.
Of all the coronavirus tests completed in the state over the last week, 5.5% came back positive. Anything over 5% can indicate a need for broader testing.
That’s higher than at any point in the pandemic except last November, Zink said.
Note: The health department now updates its coronavirus dashboard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays excluding holidays.