Alaska News

Alaska reports two new deaths as coronavirus surge puts every region in high alert

Alaska on Friday reported three deaths, two of them recent, as a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the highly infectious delta variant continued.

The state reported 585 new cases over two days, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. There were 100 people hospitalized with the virus, including 16 on ventilators.

State data showed the deaths involved a man from Palmer in his 70s, a woman from Anchorage in her 50s, and a man from Anchorage in his 40s. Two of the deaths were recent, a health department spokesperson said. One was in May but was reported this week following a standard review of death certificates.

In total, 382 Alaskans and seven nonresidents have died from COVID-19.

During the state’s worst peak last winter, the number of virus-related hospitalizations hovered between 150 and 160. That statistic dropped to around 20 by May but began rising sharply again this month.

Hospital administrators said this week that the recent hospitalizations have involved patients who are on average younger and sicker than seen previously, and that the vast majority of hospitalizations are of people who are unvaccinated.

[Vaccinated people made up three-quarters of those infected in massive Massachusetts COVID-19 outbreak, CDC finds]

The health department also shifted its alert map of the state entirely into the red Friday, indicating rapid COVID-19 transmission. The change means increased case numbers in the last three regions previously outside the high-alert category: Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Northwest region and a part of Southeast.

The state classifies high alert as a two-week average of more than 10 cases per 100,000 people. It suggests widespread community transmission, with many undetected cases and frequent outbreaks.

The state’s test positivity rate continued to rise by Friday, too. Of all the tests conducted over the past week, 5.65% were positive. Epidemiologists have said a positivity rate over 5% is a cause for concern, because it points to higher transmission and not enough virus detection.

Of the 536 cases reported in Alaska residents, there were 173 in Anchorage, 36 in Sitka, 31 in Fairbanks, 30 in Kenai, 25 in Wasilla, 23 in Juneau, 20 in Palmer, 20 in Soldotna, 19 in Cordova, 18 in Eagle River, 14 in Seward, 12 in Ketchikan, eight in North Pole, seven in Kodiak, six in Bethel, six in Chugiak, four in Nikiski, four in Valdez, three in Big Lake, three in Sterling, three in Tok, three in Unalaska, three in Utqiagvik, two in Chevak, two in Homer, two in Metlakatla, and one each in Craig, Douglas, Girdwood, Kotzebue, and Skagway.

Among smaller communities, there were 12 in the Bethel Census Area, 12 in the Kusilvak Census Area, 10 in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough, five in the Nome Census Area, five in the Prince of Wales and Hyder Census Area, three in the Copper River Census area, two in the Chugach Census Area, and one each in the Aleutians West Census Area, Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough, and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.

There were 49 nonresident cases also reported: 12 in Anchorage, five in a smaller community or communities in the Prince of Wales and Hyder Census Area, five in Unalaska, five in Wasilla, four in Seward, four in Sitka, three in Soldotna, two in Fairbanks, two in Kodiak, two in Prudhoe Bay, one in Healy, one in Kenai, one in a smaller community in the Kenai Peninsula, one in Ketchikan, and one in Skagway.

The state health department said this week that even fully vaccinated Alaskans in communities with high COVID-19 transmission should consider masking up again in public, indoor spaces as an added protection against the delta variant that can be spread by infected vaccinated people. That recommendation was in line with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to get vaccinated, calling the vaccine the best tool the state has to address rising cases and hospitalizations caused by the virus. By Friday, 48% of all Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 43% of the population was considered fully vaccinated.

Beginning Monday, the state said it would resume updating its coronavirus dashboard every weekday.