Alaska News

COVID-19 hospitalizations rising among older Alaskans, health officials say

COVID-19 hospitalizations among older Alaskans are increasing as new cases also rise, state health officials said Wednesday.

People over 70 now make up the majority of the state’s COVID-positive patients, chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a briefing. Even for vaccinated and boosted people, age remains the top risk factor for severe illness from the virus.

State health officials say current hospitalization rates of people over 70 remain far below those seen during last year’s surge driven by the delta variant, but rose over the last week.

The number of new reported cases increased by 26% over the past seven days, data showed. That increase is partially linked to tourists and also an omicron subvariant driving up cases in the Lower 48 — BA.2.12.1 made up at least 5% of recently sequenced cases, state health officials say.

While the health department’s weekly data doesn’t reflect home test results, officials say it should generally reflect broader pandemic trends.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services now updates all of its COVID-19 data only on Wednesdays. Here are a few main takeaways from the latest data available:

• By Wednesday, there were 46 COVID-positive patients hospitalized around Alaska, a small increase from 44 a week earlier but far below peak numbers earlier in the pandemic. Just under 4% of Alaska’s hospital patients were COVID-positive. One required a ventilator.

• The regions with the highest per capita case rates this week included the Denali Borough, Bethel Census Area and several areas in Southeast, including the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Skagway municipality, City and Borough of Juneau, Haines Borough and the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon area — all at more than 400 cases per 100,000 people. That data represents reported cases and not at-home tests, but regional levels provide a sense of larger case trends, officials say.

• The state health department on Wednesday reported 2,463 cases of COVID-19 in Alaska over a seven-day period. That’s a jump of included 552 cases among nonresidents and 1,911 among residents, and averages out to nearly 352 cases per day.

• Health officials say the recent rise in visitor cases is primarily a reflection of the start of tourist season. About half of the newly reported cases involve cruise ship passengers, but the state is also seeing an increase in nonresident cases outside ports in Southeast Alaska, and from industries besides tourism.

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• The state reported no new deaths linked to the virus.

• In total, 1,252 COVID-19 deaths among residents and 34 among nonresidents have been reported since March 2020. Many of the deaths reported by the state in recent weeks occurred weeks to months earlier.

• Alaska’s seven-day new case rate per 100,000 people fell to 23rd highest in the nation this week, according to a CDC tracker.

• According to Alaska’s coronavirus variant dashboard, the vast majority of the most recently sequenced viruses were the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which appears more transmissible than other variants but not more virulent or better at evading immune responses conferred by vaccination or prior infection. But about 4.8% of the cases were another new omicron subvariant — BA.2.12.1 — driving up Lower 48 counts. This data is a delayed reflection of what’s happening in the community because of the lengthy process of labs sending samples to the state to be sequenced, officials say.

• As of Wednesday, 65.1% of eligible Alaskans as well as military personnel had completed their primary vaccine series. Just over 31% of eligible people are fully vaccinated with at least one booster.

The FDA approved another Pfizer or Moderna booster shot for those 50 and older, as well as for certain younger individuals with severely compromised immune systems, if it’s been at least four months since their last vaccination. Information about getting a vaccine shot or booster in Alaska is available at covidvax.alaska.gov.

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