Alaska continues to grapple with an ever-increasing COVID-19 surge, with the second-highest number of cases reported in a single day on Friday.
The newly reported deaths involved an Anchorage man in his 30s and a nonresident in Soldotna, marking Alaska’s first nonresident death, the state health department said. In total, 97 Alaskans and one nonresident in the state have died with the virus since March.
By Friday, 108 people confirmed to have COVID-19 were currently hospitalized in Alaska — also a high — while another 13 hospital patients were suspected of having the illness.
Hospital officials and public health experts this week continued to express concern that the continued rise in new cases and hospitalizations could soon stretch the state’s limited health care system past capacity. They said that more and more health care staff are in quarantine and isolation due to recent exposures.
Resources statewide, including health care workers and contact tracers, are becoming strained as cases pile on, health officials say. In Anchorage, the majority of new cases are being outreached within a day by contact tracers. But only close contacts identified as “higher risk” are now getting calls, according to Dr. Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department.
People who test positive are being encouraged to reach out to their own close contacts, who should get tested immediately if they’re showing any symptoms or a week after their last exposure if they’re asymptomatic, she said.
City health officials said that it was likely further restrictions would be needed to get the pandemic under control.
“I would say ideally we want to see what the effect of the recent changes in emergency orders have been,” Johnston said Friday. A tightened mask mandate and new limits on gathering sizes went into effect in Anchorage on Monday.
“My sense is that what they’re doing at this point is to reduce the rate of increase, and that if we want to actually flatten the curve and bring down the cases, we’re going to need more extreme measures,” she said.
Alaska’s new cases are also part of an unprecedented acceleration curve that has continued nationwide. The United States on Thursday reported a new single-day record of more than 153,000 new coronavirus cases — the seventh time in nine days the record was shattered.
Transmission is occurring just about anywhere people mix, Alaska health officials say. Most Alaskans get COVID-19 from a friend, family member or co-worker, according to an update sent Friday by the state health department.
Leaders across Alaska, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy, are imploring residents to take the virus seriously in order to avoid its gravest consequences, and continue to ask people to avoid gatherings, regularly wash their hands, socially distance and wear masks.
“The vaccine appears to be safe and highly effective,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, a medical officer with the Anchorage Health Department. “If these results are confirmed when the trial is completed, we may actually have the first doses of the vaccine available in the next month,” he said. Several hurdles will still need to be cleared for this to happen.
Of the 584 resident cases reported by the state Friday, 242 were in Anchorage, plus 19 in Eagle River, two in Chugiak and one in Girdwood; 50 in Wasilla; 44 in Fairbanks; 39 in Soldotna; 28 in Palmer; 24 in Kenai; 22 in Juneau; 18 in North Pole; 10 in Delta Junction; eight in Utqiagvik; eight in Homer; eight in Bethel; eight in Sitka; seven in Seward; four in Sterling; four in Kodiak; three in Nome; two in Big Lake; two in Dillingham; one in Willow; one in Kotzebue; one in Douglas; one in Petersburg; one in Nikiski; and one in Anchor Point.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that are not named to protect privacy, there were six resident cases in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; four in the combined Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs; three in the Bethel Census Area; three in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the Nome Census Area; one in the North Slope Borough; one in the Northwest Arctic Borough; and one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area.
The state also reported five nonresident cases: one in Anchorage, one in the Northwest Arctic Borough and three in unidentified parts of the state.
Of the new cases, it is not reported how many patients were showing symptoms of the virus when they tested positive. While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department only represents one person.
The state’s testing positivity as of Friday was 9.24% over a seven-day rolling average. A positivity rate over 5% can indicate high community transmission and not enough testing, health officials have said.