Alaska News

Alaska reports 2 COVID-19 deaths, continued high case numbers in communities around the state

Alaska reported two COVID-19 deaths and more than 470 new cases on Friday.

Statewide, there were 125 people hospitalized with the virus, or a little over 13% of the total hospital population, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. There were six ICU beds open in Anchorage.

Hospital administrators and providers say they’ve never seen Alaska’s hospitals running at capacity for so long due to a combination of the usual summer injuries, people returning for medical care and a surge of younger, sicker, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who require more time-consuming care.

One of the newly reported deaths was recent, and involved a woman from Anchorage in her 30s. The other involved a man in his 80s or older, who was from a small community in the Prince of Wales and Hyder Census Area and was the result of a standard review of death certificates.

As of Friday, the state reported that a total of 406 Alaskans and eight nonresidents have died with COVID-19.

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The state reported 471 new cases Friday, a decline from Thursday’s tally of 686. Health officials caution testing and contact tracing backlogs make daily counts less reliable than they were before the latest case surges started last month.

Numerous communities reported continued double-digit counts, including Fairbanks with 31. Hospital officials at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital reported two new deaths this week. The hospital’s 13 mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients on Friday include an infant, a teenager and people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 80s, according to hospital spokeswoman Kelly Atlee.

Twenty-two of the new cases came from Juneau, where three COVID-positive patients have died at Bartlett Regional Hospital in the past two weeks and other, very seriously ill patients remain hospitalized, local officials said Friday morning. The hospital on Friday announced it was temporarily suspending some elective surgeries and limiting visitors to two per patient.

Thirty-five new cases came from the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, where tribal health officials reported 97 new cases in a three-day period this week. As of Thursday, there were now 198 cases in the Norton Sound region, including 146 in Stebbins, according to the Norton Sound Health Corp. website. The villages of Stebbins and St. Michael remain in lockdown until there are no new cases identified for 14 days.

The city of Saint Paul enacted a “hunker-down” order earlier this month that runs through Aug. 24 and bans all travel to the Saint Paul Island except for essential trips and critical personal needs. Only essential businesses can stay open and masks are required by businesses, public and private organizations in facilities. A positive case in someone who traveled to the island triggered the order.

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The state reported 72 cases combined Friday for the Mat-Su cities of Palmer and Wasilla. Borough school officials are tracking rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and say they expect to have to enact masking requirements at some schools.

The Alaska State Fair starts this weekend in Palmer after skipping a year due to the pandemic. This year’s fair is 14 days long to try to spread out crowds, officials say. Mark Schlereth, a retired NFL player who grew up in Anchorage and went on to play with the Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team, is expected to join health commissioner Adam Crum at a state vaccination booth on Saturday.

Five COVID-positive residents of the Pioneer Home in Ketchikan died in the last week, state health officials confirmed Thursday. The cause of death wasn’t provided.

Statewide, 53.7% of eligible residents had been fully vaccinated against the virus while 59.7% had received their first dose by Friday.

Vaccination rates in Anchorage have nearly doubled recently compared to low rates in late June and early July, according to Christy Lawton, municipal public health director. Vaccination rates a month and half ago were averaging 131 doses a day. Between Aug. 10 and 16, they averaged 255 doses, Lawton said.

Statewide, there was a 5.9% increase in vaccinations over the last week, health officials say.

The average portion of positive tests out of all tests conducted in the last week was 7.12%.

Daily News reporter Annie Berman contributed.