Alaska on Tuesday reported 16 recent COVID-19 deaths, a sign of the lingering impacts of the record-level case counts and hospitalizations the state was experiencing in September and early this month.
The state on Tuesday also reported 475 new cases, including 464 among residents and 11 among nonresidents — part of a possible leveling off in daily cases that health officials say they’re continuing to watch closely.
Ten of the newly reported deaths involved Anchorage residents: a man in his 20s, a woman in her 30s, a man in his 40s, two men and a woman in their 50s, a man in his 60s, a man in his 70s and two men in their 80s. Other Alaskans who died included three Fairbanks men — one in his 40s and two in their 60s — along with two Kenai men, one in his 50s and the other in his 60s. A Cordova woman in her 60s also died with the virus.
Alaska’s deadliest month of the pandemic so far has been December 2020, when 100 COVID-19 fatalities were reported. But September and August 2021 mark the second- and third-deadliest months, with 76 and 75 deaths reported respectively. It can sometimes take a few weeks to verify cause of death, which means those numbers could be updated in the coming weeks.
Still, Alaska’s overall death rate per capita is among the lowest in the country since the pandemic began, and Alaska currently falls in the bottom third among U.S. states for its per capita death rate over the past week. At least 590 Alaskans and 22 nonresidents have died with coronavirus infections.
While the last week saw a 9% decrease in cases compared to the week before, Alaska continues to report the nation’s highest number of cases per 100,000 residents in the previous seven days, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The statewide seven-day average test positivity rate — the proportion of positive results out of total tests performed — was 10.78% as of Tuesday, a pandemic high. Anything over 5% indicates high transmission and inadequate testing, authorities say.
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In Anchorage, where city health officials last week announced they were scaling back COVID-19 testing efforts as the result of an increased number of people seeking tests and a lack of funds to pay for those tests, the average positivity rate was 12%.
The number of people hospitalized has fallen slightly in recent days. By Tuesday, there were 186 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized around the state, including 26 people on ventilators. A few weeks ago, the state reported a record high of 217 hospitalizations — a number that doesn’t always include people past their infectious period who still need hospital care.
Twenty health care facilities around the state are operating under crisis standards of care, though not all have enacted crisis mode and any decisions to prioritize treatment are fluid and made on a daily basis.
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, nearly 500 health care workers have arrived in the state — including 275 nurses who received their emergency credentials on an accelerated timeline, according to the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Hospital leaders say vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness and death from the virus. Roughly 40% of all eligible Alaskans are not fully vaccinated. Almost 64% of eligible Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Tuesday.
Among Alaskans who have already had COVID-19, the chance of getting it again in July and August was 24% higher for unvaccinated residents compared to fully vaccinated residents, according to the most recent monthly COVID-19 update that the state Division of Public Health released last week. The report also showed vaccine breakthrough cases were on the rise in August, partly due to waning immunity over time, although the proportion of vaccine breakthrough cases overall has become more consistent since the delta variant became dominant.
Pfizer booster shots are now available in Alaska, and health officials say those who are eligible — including adults who received their second Pfizer vaccine dose at least six months ago and are either 65 and older or at high risk of severe illness — should consider getting the extra shot as a way to further protect themselves against COVID-19.
Alaskans can visit vaccines.gov to search for a vaccine provider near them, or call the state’s coronavirus helpline, 907-646-3322, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends to get local assistance making an appointment. Many, but not all, vaccine providers in the Anchorage area are also listed at anchoragecovidvaccine.org.
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