Alaska News

Slowdown in Alaska’s COVID-19 case rate is a potential sign of omicron surge’s peak

Though thousands in Alaska are still testing positive for COVID-19 each day, the rate of new infections has begun to slow — a hopeful sign that the state is approaching or has already reached a peak in cases.

On Wednesday, the state reported 4,147 cases among residents and nonresidents over two days. Even as case counts remain high, there’s been a 19% week-to-week decrease in new cases, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data dashboard.

Alaska is currently in the midst of a coronavirus surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. While omicron cases are often less severe, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to the virus have continued to emerge in Alaska.

The state on Wednesday reported eight more deaths linked to the virus, including the state’s first two pediatric COVID-19 deaths — both involving infants under a year old from the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna Borough region.

The deaths happened “a while ago” but were classified recently as COVID-19 deaths through a standard review of death certificates, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. It was not immediately clear when the deaths had occurred.

While children generally experience much milder illness from the virus than adults, in rare instances they’ve become very ill.

Nationwide, 287 kids under the age of 4 have died from the virus while an additional 623 COVID-19 deaths among youths between the ages of 5 and 17 have been reported, according to provisional data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last updated Wednesday.

The other six Alaska deaths reported Wednesday involved two women and a man in their 40s from Anchorage, a Soldotna man in his 70s, a Soldotna woman in her 60s and a Wasilla man in his 60s.

Since March 2020, there have been 1,060 COVID-19 deaths among Alaska residents and 33 nonresident deaths.

Around the state, the number of cases reported last week was nearly the same as the number recorded the week before, and in Anchorage, case counts were following a generally decreasing trajectory.

“Alaska cases are kind of starting to maybe flatten out a little bit here,” Zink said Wednesday.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, said Tuesday that he’s hopeful that those latest numbers are an indication that the state’s omicron surge has peaked in Alaska, though he said it was too soon to know that for sure.

[Alaska’s supply of COVID-19 drugs remains in flux, with some far more available than others]

Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations, which are considered to be a lagging indicator, are still relatively high though they remain far below the record levels established in the fall. As of Wednesday, there were 151 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the state’s general acute care and critical access hospitals — a slight drop from the 154 patients reported Monday.

Hospitals in Alaska have been pinched for weeks due to increased patient counts and a high number of staff callouts related to the virus.

By Wednesday, 61.7% of Alaskans five and older had completed their vaccination series while 25.6% had received a booster dose.

Vaccines for children younger than 5 could become available within the next month, health officials said.

A state report released Wednesday laid out recent Alaska-specific data on the effectiveness of booster shots during December 2021 and January 2022 when omicron was the dominant variant.

The report found that vaccinated Alaskans who were eligible to get a booster but hadn’t done so were about three times as likely to have symptomatic COVID-19 as those who had received a booster shot. The report also found that booster shots helped protect vaccinated individuals who had a prior history of COVID-19.

Nationwide studies have shown that hospitalization is less likely for people who have been boosted.

Alaska’s omicron surge took off about two weeks behind other states, and state health officials have said what happens in other states where omicron arrived first is a good indicator of what would happen in Alaska a few weeks later.

Nationally, case counts have been decreasing precipitously — by about 24% over the past week — while hospitalizations have declined by about 14%, and deaths have increased by 11%.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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