Alaska on Monday reported 53 more COVID-19 deaths, most of which happened in September, as well as 1,387 new infections logged over the weekend and a continued drop in hospitalizations.
The new COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend follow a trend of decreasing case counts that Alaska has seen recently after several weeks of plateauing daily COVID-19 numbers, a state health official said.
The state reported 445 new cases on Saturday, 641 Sunday and 301 Monday.
Last week, Alaska health officials said the state was finally seeing a drop in daily case counts after weeks of plateau. While COVID-19 numbers reported over weekends tend to be lower, every day with a smaller case count makes health officials feel slightly more comfortable saying Alaska is on a decreasing trend, said an epidemiologist with the state, Dr. Louisa Castrodale.
Looking at the past two weeks of cases, Castrodale said the case counts appear to be “creeping downward.”
Data from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard appeared to show that most of the newly reported deaths occurred in September.
COVID-19 deaths don’t always show up immediately in the state’s virus data. Sometimes they show up only after health officials review death certificates, a process that can sometimes take several weeks.
Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, health officials say.
Of the new deaths reported Monday, 31 occurred in September, five in August, 16 in October and one in November, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.
The deaths included 35 men and 18 women. Twelve were in their 80s or older, nine were in their 70s, ten were in their 60s, 13 were in their 50s, four were in their 40s, four were in their 30s, and one person was in their 20s.
They lived across the state: 23 from Anchorage, one from the Northwest Arctic Borough, two from the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, one from North Pole, six from Fairbanks, four from Wasilla, three from Palmer, one from Big Lake, on from Sutton-Alpine, one from Kenai, two from Ketchikan, one from Valdez and one from Unalaska. Additionally, state health officials specified that one Northwest Arctic Borough resident and one Anchorage resident died out of state.
The non-resident deaths were among two people in Palmer and one in Anchorage.
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September was already Alaska’s deadliest month of the pandemic, but the additional 29 resident deaths mean that 162 of the 764 Alaska residents whose deaths have been tied to the disease occurred during September 2021.
Castrodale, said she expects the state is likely finished reporting most COVID-19 deaths in September, but that there would probably more reported for the month of October.
“I would guess we’re going to have a bunch more October deaths,” she said.
In addition, three more nonresident deaths were reported Monday, which means a total of 30 nonresidents had deaths associated with the virus in Alaska since the start of the pandemic. Two of those deaths occurred in September and one in August.
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The portion of COVID-19 tests returning positive results was 7.6% Monday based on a seven-day rolling average, a drop from a peak of 10.9% in mid-October.
In an emailed statement Monday, Dr. Michael Savitt, chief medical officer at the Anchorage Health Department, wrote that the department is “cautiously optimistic,” about recent decreasing COVID-19 trends for the city, but that Anchorage continues to be in a “high-risk environment.”
“Hospitals remain at near capacity levels,” Savitt wrote. “We hope to see those numbers start to decrease soon as well.”
Since July, a COVID-19 surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant has caused a sharp rise in hospitalizations and deaths around Alaska and stretched the state’s health care system to a breaking point.
There were 128 people hospitalized with COVID-19 by Monday, state dashboard data showed, with about 13.6% of the state’s hospitalized patients considered to have active cases of the virus. That’s a decrease from recent weeks, when often one in five patients had a case of the virus.
Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect breakdown of new deaths by month.