Alaska sees new record with 526 COVID-19 cases reported Sunday

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On Sunday, Alaska saw the highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began here in March, with 526 new infections reported by the Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 dashboard.

The record numbers Sunday come after a week of climbing cases representing a major surge statewide, including dramatic increases throughout rural communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. The previous highest daily case increase was Saturday, with 355 COVID-19 cases reported.

Sunday marks the 32nd consecutive day Alaska has had case numbers in the triple digits. All but three regions of the state are in the high alert zone.

The rise in cases Sunday was due widespread community transmission, increased testing in many communities and backlogged case data, the health department said in an online statement.

A vast majority of Sunday’s cases were reported in Alaskans younger than 60, said health department commissioner Adam Crum in the statement. Younger people are less likely to die or become severely ill from the virus than older people or those with compromised immune systems.

“The saturation of the virus in the community increases the likelihood that our vulnerable populations such as older Alaskans or others at risk of severe illness will be infected, and these are the groups we are especially trying to protect,” he said.

There were no new deaths reported Sunday. The state’s per capita death rate remains among the lowest in the country. In total, 68 Alaskans have died with COVID-19.

(from Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services)

Hospitalizations on Sunday remained unchanged from the day before, with 58 Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19. On Friday, 59 people were hospitalized with the illness, a record for the state. Hospitalizations are what’s known as a “lagging indicator,” meaning people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 may have tested positive weeks earlier.

On Sunday, 41 of the state’s 131 intensive-care-unit beds were available. The 92 occupied beds included COVID-19 patients as well as people suffering from other illnesses or injuries.

The department said Sunday that hospital capacity remained steady, but noted that the Alaska Airlines Center was still prepared to handle patients if hospitals overflow. The department said the Norton Sound Health Corporation is opening an additional alternative care site as cases have continued to rise.

The state’s testing positivity rate as of Sunday was 6.32% over a seven-day rolling average.

Officials from the health department said Sunday that response efforts were being increased in hopes of combatting the climbing number of cases.

A team of Public Health Nurses were sent to Bethel over the weekend to help with testing, contact tracing and community education as cases have continued to rise in Western Alaska communities. The department shipped 1,400 pounds of additional personal protective equipment to the area, also.

The federal health department sent 50 rapid testing machines to Alaska for distribution around the state and officials say the new machines will be used for “emerging case clusters and to protect congregate settings such as homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, correction facilities, schools and workplaces.”

Of the 520 cases reported in Alaska residents Sunday, 193 were in Anchorage, plus two in Chugiak, 13 in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; three were in Homer, 11 in Kenai, one in Seward, 17 in Soldotna and two in Sterling; two were in Kodiak; one was in Valdez; one was in Healy; 65 were in Fairbanks and 10 in North Pole; one in Delta Junction; three were in Tok; two were in Big Lake, three in Houston, 18 in Palmer, 49 in Wasilla and two in Willow; one was in Nome; seven were in Utqiagvik; eight were in Kotzebue; one was in Douglas and 34 in Juneau; one in Ketchikan; three in Sitka; two in Skagway; nine in Bethel; two in Dillingham; 16 in Chevak and one in Hooper Bay.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 not identified to protect confidentiality, there were three in the North Kenai Peninsula Borough and one in South Kenai Peninsula Borough; three in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; two in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; five in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; two in the Nome Census Area; one in the Northwest Arctic Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; one in Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon; 11 in the Bethel Census Area; one in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs; one in the Dillingham Census Area; and one in the Kusilvak Census Area.

There were six cases reported in nonresidents Sunday, including one in Kenai, two in Prudhoe Bay and three cases marked as unknown by the state health department.

It could be days before a contact tracer reaches out to an individual who tests positive, state health officials say. In the meantime, they’re requesting people reach out to their own close contacts.

Here’s what the state health department says people can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

• Isolate yourself if you feel any cold-like symptoms and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. If you or your family need food, housing or other non-medical assistance, please contact Alaska 2-1-1 (dial 211 or 800-478-2221) or your local emergency operations center for help.

• Avoid crowded places and gatherings; keep social circles very small.

• Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household.

• Always have a mask on when you are around people outside of your household – even if you can maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

• Wash your hands often and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and objects.

• Please answer the call if a public health contact tracer calls you and follow their guidance.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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