Alaska on Tuesday reported 10 COVID-19 deaths and a total of 726 new infections, marking the first time in a week that the state’s daily counts fell below 1,000.
Counts from the past week have included a mix of recently reported cases and ones that were backlogged to to reporting and other delays, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist.
Tuesday’s lower count “largely reflects the fact that our team was able to process through the bulk of backlogged cases last week and through the weekend,” he said in an email Tuesday.
“We will continue to process paper reports, smaller batches of electronic reports that are only about 5-7 days old, and daily reported cases,” he said. Weekly averages are a better way to track trends, he added. Over the last week, Alaska’s per capita case rate was the highest in the nation.
Tuesday’s 10 reported deaths all occurred recently, and they involved eight Anchorage residents, one Kenai resident and one person from a smaller community in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area. Of those who died, one was in their 80s or older, two were in their 70s, one was in their 60s, five were in their 50s and one was in their 40s.
A total of 75 virus-related fatalities have been reported since last Friday — nearly 15% of the state’s total death toll since the pandemic arrived in Alaska last spring.
Many of those dozens of deaths occurred last month and were identified through a standard review of death certificates, health officials said. Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll.
Alaska’s health care facilities continue to operate under extremely high levels of stress.
As of Tuesday, the state was reporting 209 people hospitalized with the virus — a slight drop from Monday’s near-record count of 215. Thirty-three people were sick enough to require mechanical ventilation.
Alaska hospitals say their numbers are likely an undercount of the true impact of COVID-19, since they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.
In Anchorage, where nearly half of the state’s virus-related hospitalizations were concentrated, the city’s Assembly was set to consider a proposed mask mandate Tuesday evening. In an opinion piece, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said he “strongly opposed” the proposal, calling it an “infringement on the freedoms guaranteed to every Anchorage citizen.”
“I am not against masking; I am simply pro-liberty,” he said while also casting doubt on the effectiveness of wearing facial coverings in indoor public spaces — a practice advised by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and widely recommended by public health officials.
Last week, state officials announced they were enabling hospitals to enact crisis standards of care if necessary. Enacting crisis standards is considered a worst-case scenario that allows hospitals to ration care due to equipment, bed or staffing limitations. The state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, shifted to crisis-care mode earlier this month.
State officials also announced that Alaska has signed a contract to bring nearly 500 health care workers from the Lower 48 to provide some relief. The $87 million contract with a company called DLH Solutions promises to bring 470 contracted health care workers to facilities around the state beginning this week. The workers will initially fill immediate needs in places with the most intensive care unit beds, like Anchorage and the Matanuska Susitna Borough this week, health officials say.
The influx of newly reported deaths means Alaska’s per capita death rate over the last week is now the second-highest in the nation — just behind West Virginia, which currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the country — according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A total of 542 residents and 21 nonresidents have died with COVID-19 since March 2020. In all, 80% of these deaths have involved people in their 60s or older, 60% have been men, and 87% have been people who are unvaccinated.
When measured over the course of the pandemic, Alaska’s per capita death rate over the entire pandemic remains among the best in the country since January 2020. Only Vermont and Hawaii have reported few deaths relative to their population.
Some Alaskans are now eligible for a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine, according to new CDC guidelines. That list includes those who previously received a dose of Pfizer’s vaccine and are either 65 and older, or are 18 and older and have an underlying health condition or live or work in a high-risk setting.
Booster shots should be administered at least six months after the initial vaccination series was completed, the agency says.
As of Tuesday, 63% of eligible Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine and 59.1% were considered fully vaccinated. Alaska ranked 33rd in the country for vaccination rates.
The state does not regularly publish data on the vaccination status of new cases, hospitalizations or deaths. That information is published on a monthly basis. In July, breakthrough infections in vaccinated people accounted for about a third of new infections. August’s data is not yet publicly available.
Statewide, 9.12% of the tests conducted last week came up positive for the virus. Health experts say anything over 5% indicates there isn’t enough testing going on.