Alaska ended a week of record COVID-19 cases and elevated hospitalizations with another high count of 893 new COVID-19 infections and one new death reported Friday.
Alaska’s surge — currently one of the worst in the country — is driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which has pushed up case counts, hospitalizations and deaths across most of the U.S. in recent months.
But while other states have very recently begun to see plateauing case counts, Alaska continues to report pandemic-high counts that the state epidemiologist said this week shows little sign of slowing.
According to a tracker compiled by The New York Times, Alaska by Friday was third in the nation for new daily case rates and in the top five for new hospitalizations over the past two weeks.
By Friday, a total of 204 COVID-positive patients were in hospitals statewide, according to state data. That’s a slight drop from earlier in the week but still a near-record, and far higher than the hospitalization numbers reported over last winter’s peak. More than half of the current hospitalizations were concentrated in Anchorage, and included 33 people on ventilators.
Patients with the virus accounted for nearly half the state’s intensive-care unit patients. In all, about 1 in 5 hospitalized Alaskans have COVID-19.
Hospitals say virus hospitalization numbers are likely an undercount of the true impact of COVID-19, since they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.
Few states have surpassed their winter-level surges the way Alaska has in recent weeks. Of those that have, fewer have overwhelmed their hospitals to the crisis levels Alaska is now experiencing. Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, this week began rationing care under crisis-care protocols, while most other facilities reported similar levels of stress.
Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, this week encouraged Alaskans with less serious or longer-term health concerns to consider visiting urgent care or walk-up health clinics instead of overwhelmed emergency rooms.
Because COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths lag a few weeks behind surges in cases, Alaska’s overburdened hospitals aren’t likely to see relief anytime soon.
Of the 893 new cases reported Friday, 875 involved residents and 18 involved nonresidents. While cases are high across most of the state, communities on the road system with lower vaccination rates — including Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su and most of the Kenai Peninsula — appear to be hardest hit.
One new death was reported Friday. Since March 2020, 454 Alaskans and 15 people from out of state who were in Alaska have died with COVID-19.
After leading U.S. states in vaccinations per capita earlier this year, Alaska on Friday ranked 32nd. By Friday, 62.2% of eligible Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine and 57% were fully vaccinated, according to state data.
Meanwhile, state officials say continued high numbers of new cases are leading to backlogs in contact tracing and data reporting.
As of Friday, the state’s seven-day average test positivity rate — the number of positive tests out of total performed — was 9.58%, a near-record high since the pandemic began. Health officials say anything over 5% indicates a need for more testing.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.