Alaska News

Alaska reports another 9 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday as cases continue trending down

Alaska on Wednesday reported another nine virus-related deaths and 508 COVID-19 cases, part of a downward trajectory in cases identified around the state.

“We have seen a 14% decrease (in cases) this week compared to the week before,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Virus-related hospitalizations also continued to fall. By Wednesday, there were 130 people hospitalized with COVID-19, state dashboard data showed, with about 14% of the state’s hospitalized patients considered to have active cases.

That’s a significant decrease from a high of more than 200 people hospitalized on average since September, but still relatively high compared to most of the pandemic.

Some hospitals — including Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer and Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna — still have relatively high patient counts, said Heidi Hedberg, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ director of public health, in a Wednesday interview.

But those facilities are managing, transfers between hospitals are much easier than they were a few weeks ago, and staffing and resources are feeling less strained than they were before, Hedberg said.

[As COVID hospitalizations decline in Alaska, association president says, ‘It feels like we’re at a turning point’]

While crisis standards of care are still officially enabled at approximately 20 of Alaska’s hospitals, hospital officials have said that declining COVID-positive patient counts meant that facilities have not had to act on those standards in the last few weeks.

“I think everyone’s now able to breathe a little bit easier, which is great,” Hedberg said.

Starting in July, a virus surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant caused a sharp rise in hospitalizations and deaths around Alaska — mostly among the unvaccinated — and stretched the health care system to a breaking point.

The impacts of that surge are still being borne out. Wednesday’s newly reported deaths brought the state’s overall COVID-19 death toll to 801 residents and 30 nonresidents since the start of the pandemic.

The latest deaths involved a Fairbanks man in his 60s, a Delta Junction man in his 60s, a Wasilla woman in her 60s, a Wasilla man in his 50s, an Anchorage woman in her 70s and four men from Anchorage, including two in their 60s, one in his 50s and one in his 30s.

On Tuesday, the state reported 28 virus deaths, most of which had occurred in October, and on Monday, Alaska reported 53 virus deaths, most of which had occurred in September. September and October 2021 were the deadliest months of the pandemic in Alaska so far, state data showed.

COVID-19 deaths don’t always appear 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.

Despite the downward trajectory in cases, Alaska’s seven-day case rate — at 530 per 100,000, or nearly 3 1/2 times the national average — continues to be the highest among U.S. states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As we head into the holiday season, I am really hoping that we continue to see a decrease in cases and a decrease in hospitalizations,” Hedberg said Wednesday.

The portion of COVID-19 tests returning positive results was 7.7% as of Wednesday based on a seven-day rolling average, a drop from a peak of above 10% in mid-October.

Of Alaskans 5 and older, 59% have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, state data showed.

Note: The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services coronavirus data dashboard won’t be updated on Thursday due to the Veterans Day holiday.