Alaska on Thursday reported 842 new cases and five more deaths tied to the virus, according to state data.
Alaska’s case rate is still the highest in the nation. But after nearly three months of increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have pushed hospitals to a crisis point, Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said that she’s “cautiously optimistic” that cases and hospitalizations have finally begun declining around the state.
“We are starting to see a bit of a decrease” in cases, Zink said during a call with reporters Thursday, pointing to data trends that showed a 32% decrease in newly reported cases over the last week compared to the week before.
Still, the state’s test positivity rate remains high — nearly 1 in 10 tests over the last week have come back positive — and “just because we’re on the way down, doesn’t mean that it’s over,” Zink said. “We still have a lot of COVID circulating around.”
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide on Thursday shrank for the third day in a row to 180 total, though that number doesn’t always include people past their infectious period who still need hospital care.
It’s not clear yet that the decline indicates a real trend, according to Jeannie Monk, senior vice president at the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. On a Thursday morning call, hospitals continued to report a high number of very sick patients whose needs are intensive, she said.
And while hospitals are still dealing with high patient loads and strained resources, they recently received some relief from Lower 48 health care workers. As the result of a state contract signed last month to bring up nearly 500 health care workers, 422 workers have arrived in the state so far, and 330 of them have been assigned to 22 health care facilities around the state with more arriving each day, Zink said.
“It’s a palpable, noticeable difference in our hospitals right now because of this deployment,” she said.
More than 150 of Alaska’s deaths occurred from the start of August up to now — long after vaccines became widely available to the public. That means a little over a quarter of virus-related deaths among Alaskans have occurred in the past two months. In total, 569 Alaskans and 21 nonresidents in the state have died with the virus.
The five deaths reported Thursday involved an Anchorage man in his 80s or older, an Anchorage woman in her 40s, a woman from a small community in the Chugach Census Area in her 60s, a Soldotna man in his 70s and a Soldotna man in his 50s.
By Thursday, 63.7% of Alaskans 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The state’s average test positivity rate over the last week was 9.48%. Epidemiologists say anything over 5% can indicate widespread transmission and not enough testing.
New data released on hospitalizations and ‘vaccine breakthroughs’ in Alaska
The state Division of Public Health on Thursday released a more comprehensive look at hospitalizations, deaths and vaccine breakthrough cases since the start of the pandemic through August.
• 27% of the ICU stays were associated with a fatality.
• 39% of COVID-19 patients who were on a ventilator died.
• 13 youths have been reported to have multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, which can develop weeks after a COVID-19 infection and often involves hospitalizations. None of those children died.
• August 2021 saw an increase in virus-related deaths. It was second-deadliest month for Alaska after last December. (September’s death data has not yet been finalized and wasn’t included in Thursday’s report.)
• More men than women have died with COVID-19.
• The COVID-19 death rate is highest among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Alaska Native and Asian populations.
• In August, 19% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and a third of all cases involved people who were vaccinated. The data showed that the incidence of COVID-19 among vaccinated people was consistently lower than among people who weren’t vaccinated.
In July and August 2021, among people 12 and older who have had COVID-19, the incidence of reinfection was 24% higher among persons who were unvaccinated compared to those who were fully vaccinated — showing that if someone was previously infected, getting vaccinated provided even greater protection against the virus.
The data also shows about a ninefold reduction in the risk of hospitalization among people who are fully vaccinated compared to those who are unvaccinated.