Alaska on Thursday reported the deaths of two relatively young residents tied to COVID-19 as the number of people hospitalized with the virus continued to drop.
The state also reported 347 new resident cases and two nonresident cases.
The deaths reported Thursday involved an Anchorage man in his 20s and a Dillingham Census Area man in his 30s. So far, 853 Alaska residents and 30 nonresidents have died with the virus since the start of the pandemic.
COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to decrease. By Thursday, the state was reporting 71 patients with active cases of the virus hospitalized statewide. About 7% 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.
That’s a significant decrease from a high of more than 200 people hospitalized on average since September, peaking at more than 240 in October.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced at a briefing Thursday that the state is extending a contract that brought 470 out-of-state health workers to Alaska by a month, until late January. Not all of the workers are expected to want to stay, but health officials say they’re trying to find replacements for them.
The state in September signed an $87 million contract with a company called DLH Solutions to bring the extra help for hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
The state is applying for “100% cost share” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the extension, state public health division section chief Gene Wiseman said during the briefing.
The help is still needed, officials say.
“The hospitals feel a pressure relief valve, would probably be the best way to say that,” Wiseman said. The workers have allowed hospital administrators “to focus on the long-term solutions and problems.”
The state’s test positivity rate — the number of positive tests out of total performed — was 5.2% as of Thursday, or just over the 5% level that generally indicates enough testing is occurring.
Through most of September and October, Alaska had the highest seven-day case rate in the country. By Wednesday, Alaska ranked 17th among states for its seven-day COVID-19 case rate, with 271.1 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 of the nation — at 31st — for its vaccination rate.
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 19th in the country.
Reporter Annie Berman contributed to this story.