Alaska on Wednesday reported six resident deaths tied to COVID-19 as the number of people hospitalized with the virus continued to drop, triggering visitor policy changes at some facilities.
The state also reported 476 new resident cases and an additional 11 cases among nonresidents Wednesday.
The six deaths occurred recently and involved an Anchorage woman in her 40s; a Kenai woman in her 40s; an Anchorage man in his 50s; an Anchorage woman in her 60s; an Anchorage man in his 60s; and a man from the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs in his 60s.
Separately, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital on Wednesday reported the death of a 67-year-old COVID-19 patient.
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decrease. By Wednesday, the state reported 94 patients with active cases of the virus hospitalized statewide as of Tuesday — the first time in weeks that tally has dropped below 100 and well under a high of over 230 recorded earlier this fall.
The state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, on Wednesday shifted into a less restrictive visitor policy after entering its strictest level in early September.
Generally, patients are now allowed one visitor during visiting hours, though restrictions continue for patients with COVID-19, a hospital spokesperson said.
Alaska Regional Hospital last week modified visitor access and also now allows one visitor per patient except for COVID-positive people.
Alaska Native Medical Center is “in the process of evaluating our staffing levels” to assess the feasibility of relaxing restrictions but for now continues to limit visitors under a policy enacted in August, spokesperson Shirley Young said in an email Wednesday.
About 10% of all hospital patients in the state are COVID-positive. Those numbers don’t include some people recovering from the disease who need continued care, at times for weeks.
The decrease follows a period in which cases and hospitalizations peaked and then continued at high levels in September and October.
The state’s test positivity rate — the number of positive tests out of total performed — is also falling, to 5.45% as of Wednesday, or just over the 5% level that generally indicates enough testing is occurring.
This week, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport announced that COVID-19 testing will be available only for ticketed passengers and badged employees starting Dec. 1. The testing site, currently located in the downstairs baggage claim area, will move behind security.
“This change will mitigate the potential risk of asymptomatic spread among travelers and the workers who support our critical transportation infrastructure,” the airport said in a statement.
Free testing for travelers headed to Hawaii will be available starting Dec. 1 at Alaska Park.
The general public can still get COVID-19 vaccinations at the airport.
Even as they decline in Alaska, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising nationwide, particularly in colder states where increased time indoors has meant more transmission.
Through most of September and October, Alaska had the highest seven-day case rate in the country. By Wednesday, Alaska ranked 18th among states for its seven-day COVID-19 case rate, with 321.1 cases per 100,000 people.
Health officials have called vaccination the best tool Alaskans have to prevent future surges. About 61% of Alaskans 5 and older have received one dose of the shot while 55% are considered fully vaccinated. Alaska currently ranks in the bottom third — 31st among all states — for its vaccination rate.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has reported 840 COVID-19 deaths involving Alaskans and 30 among out-of-state residents.
Measured over the course of the pandemic, Alaska’s death rate is the sixth lowest in the nation, according to data from the CDC. Alaska’s number of deaths per 100,000 over the past week ranked 13th in the country.