Alaska on Wednesday reported 1,597 new COVID-19 cases identified over the previous two days, part of a rise in cases that the state epidemiologist has said is likely driven by the highly infectious omicron variant.
As cases have significantly risen, hospitalizations have so far remained low, with 55 COVID-positive patients hospitalized across the state as of Wednesday and another five patients awaiting test results.
Just seven omicron cases have been sequenced, according to state data, although those reports tend to lag behind on-the-ground trends. A late December storm in Fairbanks shut down the state’s public health lab for multiple days, halting sequencing efforts and causing a delay in reports, state epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said last week. He also described indicators that suggest the mounting surge is due to the omicron variant spreading in Alaska.
Of the cases reported Wednesday, 1,513 involved Alaska residents while 84 cases involved nonresidents.
About 57.6% of Alaskans age 5 or older are considered fully vaccinated, and 63% have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state health department.
No new deaths were reported Wednesday. So far, 947 Alaskans and 32 nonresidents in the state have died from the virus.
The seven-day average testing positivity rate, reflecting the percentage of tests returning positive results, as of Wednesday was 14.7%. Health officials have said that a percent positivity rate of about 5% may indicate that not enough testing is occurring and reflect a higher level of virus transmission within the community.
In Anchorage, the state’s largest city, COVID-19 testing has been in high demand with long lines reported at some test sites and at-home tests getting snapped up quickly. State health officials on Wednesday said over-the-counter tests are scarce in much of the state, though they are also available online and at some local retail outlets, and officials also said they hope more commercially operated testing sites will open across Alaska in the future.
According to Anchorage’s virus testing website, the municipality is expected to have some at-home test kits available at the Fairview Recreation Center from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday, though another distribution site in Spenard will not have kits available that day. On Thursday, the city health department said it would also distribute home test kits at the Salvation Army Food Pantry, 1712 A St., from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday. More information on Anchorage COVID-19 testing availability is provided at anchoragecovidtest.org.
The omicron variant is highly transmissible, though mounting evidence shows it is less lethal or likely to cause severe illness or hospitalizations, particularly among those who are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, even for those vaccinated and boosted, breakthrough cases are proving common.
Omicron has become the dominant variant nationally as the U.S. experiences a surge in virus cases that’s putting added pressure on hospitals — which are contending with staffing shortages driven by COVID-19 and more patients testing positive — even as patients don’t appear to be as sick as they were during the last surge.