Alaska reports more new COVID-19 cases among visitors as tourist season gets underway

By Anchorage Daily News

Updated: 2 hours ago Published: 3 hours ago

COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases reported to Alaska’s health department increased again this past week. A new omicron subvariant driving up cases in the Lower 48 made up nearly 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 44 COVID-positive patients hospitalized around Alaska, an increase from 41 a week earlier but far below peak numbers earlier in the pandemic. Just over 3% 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 and several areas in Southeast, including the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Skagway municipality, City and Borough of Juneau, City and Borough of Sitka and the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon area — all at more than 500 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 1,954 cases of COVID-19 in Alaska over a seven-day period, an 11% increase compared to last week. That included 279 cases among nonresidents and 1,675 among residents, and averages out to nearly 280 cases per day. The recent rise in visitor cases is primarily a reflection of the start of tourist season, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. Many of the 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, McLaughlin said.

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• The state reported 18 more deaths linked to the virus, including one nonresident. The resident deaths included: five people from Anchorage, two from Ketchikan, one from a small community in the Copper River Census Area, one from Dillingham, one from Homer, one from a small community in the Mat-Su Borough, one from a small community in the North Slope Borough, one from a small community in the Northwest Arctic Borough, one from Palmer, one from Petersburg, one from Utqiagvik and one from Wasilla. Ten of the residents were in their 70s or older; three were in their 60s; two were in their 50s; and two were in their 40s.

• 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 22nd 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 stealth 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.

• As of Wednesday, 65% of eligible Alaskans as well as military personnel had completed their primary vaccine series. That number has been very slowly ticking up in recent weeks. 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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