Alaska on Tuesday reported six virus-related deaths and 499 new cases of COVID-19 as state health officials pointed to a recent downward trend in cases as reason for optimism in the current phase of the pandemic.
“Over the last two weeks, we have seen a drop in cases,” Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist, said Tuesday.
While “at this point, it’s too early to say what’s in store for the next week, this is a good sign,” he said.
McLaughlin pointed to data on Alaska’s coronavirus dashboard showed that over the last two weeks, fewer cases have been reported than the preceding week. Over the last week, the state recorded a 17% drop in cases.
Since July, a COVID-19 surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant has caused a sharp rise in virus-related hospitalizations and deaths around Alaska and stretched the state’s health care system to a breaking point.
For about a month, Alaska had been in the midst of a case plateau with case rates still high, though not increasing, and staying relatively level from day to day with some seesawing. Until now, state health officials have refrained from characterizing case trends in the current virus surge as declining.
The decreasing trend is an encouraging sign, even though it could take weeks for hospitals to see the effects and hospitalizations remain uncomfortably high, Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said this week.
By Tuesday, there were 184 people with COVID-19 hospitalized around the state — a significant drop from last week, when a record 236 hospitalizations were reported. Of current patients, 27 required mechanical ventilation, and nearly one in five hospital patients were COVID-positive.
Tuesday’s newly reported deaths involved five Anchorage residents — a woman in her 80s or older, a man in his 60s, a woman in her 50s, a woman in her 30s and a woman in her 20s — along with a woman from a smaller community in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough in her 70s.
Virus-related deaths also follow a few weeks behind spikes in cases and hospitalizations, and Tuesday’s count of six more Alaskans who have died with the virus is part of a steady stream of fatalities reported by state in recent weeks.
Over the last three weeks alone, the state has reported 53 COVID-19 deaths among Alaska residents — a number that is subject to change as more data gets reported in the future.
Despite the downward case trend, data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention as of Tuesday continued to show Alaska with the highest case rate in the nation. Over the past seven days, Alaska had 605.2 cases per 100,000 people, nearly four times the national rate.
Other largely rural western states, like Montana and North Dakota, have also been recording some of the nation’s highest case rates. On Tuesday, the two states followed Alaska in the national ranking, with 467.4 and 454.4 cases per 100,000 people, respectively.
As of Tuesday, the portion of COVID-19 tests returning positive results was 8.66% based on a seven-day rolling average.
Sixty-five percent of Alaskans 12 and older have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.