Alaska reported 751 COVID-19 cases over three days as a statewide surge driven by the highly infectious delta variant continued over the weekend.
The newly reported cases followed a trend of higher cases and hospitalizations that began in July. By last week, the state was averaging over 200 new cases per day, and coronavirus-related hospitalizations had reached levels not seen since winter.
The number of Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19 stayed steady over the weekend. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard, by Monday, there were 98 people hospitalized with the virus, including 18 on ventilators — down slightly from 100 total hospitalizations on Friday.
During the state’s worst peak last winter, the number of virus-related hospitalizations hovered between 150 and 160.
Hospital administrators said last week that the recent hospitalizations have involved patients who are on average younger and sicker than those seen previously, and that the vast majority of hospitalizations are of people who are unvaccinated.
In total, 382 Alaskans and seven nonresidents have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic reached the state last spring.
By Monday, all regions of the state remained at a high alert level, shown as red on maps. 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 Monday, too. Of all the tests conducted over the past week, 6.01% 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.
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 Monday, 48% of all Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 44% of the population was considered fully vaccinated.
As case counts climb, a growing number of health officials, communities and other institutions are again asking Alaskans to wear masks.
The state health department said last week that even fully vaccinated Alaskans in communities with high COVID-19 transmission should consider masking up again in public, indoor spaces. That recommendation was in line with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
In Anchorage, the school district said it will also recommend that the school board approve requiring universal masking indoors for fall to limit spread of the virus. The Anchorage School Board is scheduled to review the superintendent’s plan during its next school board meeting Tuesday.
The Southeast Alaska communities of Sitka and Juneau have enacted mask mandates in response to federal guidance and increases in case counts. But in Anchorage, Mayor Dave Bronson said last week he had no plans to mandate masking or enact other restrictions.
The University of Alaska said over the weekend that beginning Monday, it would begin requiring face masks indoors on all of its campuses in communities where risk level is classified as “high” or “substantial” as defined by CDC guidelines — “except when you are in a private residence or alone in a private office with the door shut,” according to a statement signed by the university’s interim president, Pat Pitney. Currently, that includes nearly all communities in Alaska.
Of the 703 new cases reported among Alaska residents, there were 283 cases in Anchorage, 53 in Wasilla, 40 in Kenai, 34 in Soldotna, 33 in Eagle River, 27 in Sitka, 22 in Fairbanks, 21 in Juneau, 20 in Palmer, 19 in Kodiak, 12 in North Pole, nine in Craig, eight in Ketchikan, eight in Kotzebue, seven in Chugiak, seven in Cordova, six in Bethel, five in Big Lake, four in Seward, three in Nikiski, three in Nome, three in Sterling, three in Utqiaġvik, two in Homer, two in Hooper Bay, two in Skagway, two in Sutton-Alpine, and one each in Douglas, Girdwood, Houston, Metlakatla, Salcha, Tok, Valdez and Wrangell.
Among smaller communities, there were 16 in the Northwest Arctic Borough, 11 in the Prince Of Wales-Hyder Census Area, six in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough, six in the Nome Census Area, three in the Dillingham Census Area, two in the Chugach Census Area, two in the Copper River Census Area, two in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, two in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough, two in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, and one each in the Aleutians East Borough, the Bethel Census Area, the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area.
There were 48 nonresident cases also identified: 18 in Anchorage, four in Juneau, four in Soldotna, three in Sitka, three in Wasilla, two in Fairbanks, two in a small community in the Prince of Wales and Hyder Census Area, one in Prudhoe Bay and 11 in unidentified regions of the state.
Beginning Monday, the state said it would resume updating its coronavirus dashboard every weekday.