In total, 120 Alaskans and a nonresident have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began here in March. The two deaths reported Saturday involved an Anchorage woman in her 70s and an Anchorage woman over 80, according to the state health department.
Saturday’s COVID-19 numbers follow 735 new cases reported a day earlier — the second-highest daily tally so far — and represent a continuation of high case counts statewide that have grown for weeks alongside a nationwide virus surge. Concern surrounding the state’s strained hospital and health care system continues to grow as daily tallies climb.
And health officials say that daily counts may be underreporting new case numbers as lags in data entry persist. They say looking at trends, such as two-week averages, may give a fuller picture of the state’s current virus situation. Almost every region in the state is now in a high-alert level based on the average number of cases per 100,00 people over the last 14 days, with that number steeply rising in multiple regions over the past week. That means there’s widespread community transmission, frequent outbreaks and many undetected cases across Alaska.
People in Alaska are largely getting the virus from friends, family members and co-workers, according to health officials, and many people who tested positive reported going to social gatherings, community events, church services and social venues while they were contagious but did not yet know they had COVID-19.
Officials recommend that Alaskans stay away from gatherings with people they don’t live with and avoid crowds, and they continue to encourage people to stay 6 feet from others and wear masks around non-household members.
As of Saturday, 141 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and another 12 hospital patients were suspected of being infected with the virus. Close to a fifth of all hospital patients statewide had COVID-19 by the weekend. Hospitalizations are rising and the limited availability of staffing is a significant concern, health officials said this week.
Of the 639 new cases reported by the state Saturday among Alaska residents, 262 were in Anchorage, plus 16 in Chugiak, 13 in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; 91 in Wasilla, 29 in Palmer, two in Big Lake, one in Houston and one in Sutton-Alpine; 16 in Soldotna, 12 in Kenai, four in Sterling, two in Seward, two in Homer, one in Fritz Creek and one in Nikiski; 37 in Fairbanks and seven in North Pole; 11 in Kodiak; 10 in Nome; seven in Utqiagvik; seven in Juneau; seven in Sitka; six in Bethel; three in Delta Junction; three in Kotzebue; two in Dillingham; two in Chevak; one in Ketchikan; one in Petersburg; and one in Unalaska.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were 55 resident cases in the Bethel Census Area; eight in the Kusilvak Census Area; four in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two in the Northwest Arctic Borough; two in the North Slope Borough; one in the Kodiak Island Borough; one in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; one in the Denali Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; and one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon region.
Seventeen cases were reported among nonresidents: seven in Anchorage, two in Delta Junction, one in Fairbanks, one in Wasilla, one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and five in unidentified regions of the state.
The percentage of positive cases among people arriving in Alaska is five times what it was just weeks ago, at around 5%, officials said in a weekly report. Traveling by air risks exposure in airports, on planes, in taxis or rideshares and after arriving, they said.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
Among the new cases, it is not reported how many people were showing symptoms when they tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.