As new cases reported Friday in Alaska again shattered previous records, state health officials say the latest COVID-19 surge, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, could peak within just a few weeks, based on trends they’re seeing in other states.
Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s chief epidemiologist, said on a recent call with reporters that in places like South Africa, Canada and the U.K., cases peaked recently and have since been trending downward.
Nationally, according to Alaska chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink, the country is making a “U-turn,” with hard-hit East Coast states trending downward significantly. Alaska tends to follow behind the rest of the United States, she said.
McLaughlin said he suspected that Alaska’s peak will occur just a few weeks behind some of those eastern U.S. states. The omicron wave hit Alaska roughly two weeks after it hit the East Coast, he said. The data is looking promising – from three to five weeks after large increases begin, countries and regions began to see their case counts fall.
But for the moment, daily case counts in Alaska are the highest they’ve ever been.
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The state on Friday reported 6,532 cases among residents and nonresidents over the previous two days, marking the first and second times daily counts exceeded 3,000 in Alaska.
Since the New Year — around the time the highly transmissible omicron variant took off in the state — about 4.8% of all Alaskans tested positive for the virus. About 2 in 100 Alaska residents received a positive test result within the last seven days.
And since the beginning of the month, about 70% of all cases in the state have been people in their 30s or younger. Less than 10% of all cases in the state have been among people in their 60s or older.
By Friday, there were 127 Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19 around the state — an increase from the 100 reported Friday, but still less than half of the record-high hospitalizations seen during a peak last fall that pushed many facilities to a breaking point.
The situation at Alaska hospitals is “delicate,” Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association said Friday afternoon, calling staffing issues the primary concern at the moment.
The rapid spread of omicron has meant hundreds of health care workers testing positive or being exposed to someone with the virus, causing them to call off work.
“Staffing is universally thin” across Alaska, he said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations had “noticeably” risen since Wednesday, Kosin said, which is also somewhat worrying, he said.
The good news continues to be that hospitalizations associated with the omicron variant have generally been less complex and have involved shorter stays, “so that makes it far more manageable,” Kosin said.
“But again, we’re working short-handed with all the staff call-outs, and that does not seem like it’s going to resolve itself very quickly,” he said.
No new deaths were reported in the state on Friday. Alaska has reported a total of 1,018 resident and 22 nonresident deaths associated with the virus since March 2020.