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As Anchorage COVID-19 cases rise, health department discusses high alert level, delta variant

Covid 19 Update
Covid 19 Update
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 8:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Municipality of Anchorage is back in the high alert level again when it comes to COVID-19 transmission for the first time since mid-May, according to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Anchorage spent months of the pandemic in the high alert status, according to the state health department. That means the municipality had an average daily case rate of more than 10 cases per 100,000. The alert levels are calculated via the average daily case rate over the most recent 14 days, per 100,000 of population.

Communities with average daily case rates below five per 100,000 are in the low alert level, and those with case rates between five and 10 per 100,000 are in the intermediate alert level.

In May, the municipality dropped to the intermediate alert level and it spent most of June in low alert, but the case rate was creeping back to intermediate, according to the department.

This week, the municipality has risen back into the high alert status. As of Wednesday, Anchorage had an average daily case rate of 11.1 per 100,000.

“I was so excited when we got down under three cases per 100,000,” said Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Janet Johnston. “I’m not surprised that cases have been going up.”

This time last year, cases in the municipality were spiking, something similar to what is happening now, according to data on the municipality’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“The case counts are fairly similar year-to-year, which I find a little bit eerie,” Johnston said. “The biggest difference is that 50% of the people are vaccinated. So, I don’t expect to see the same tremendous increase in the fall that we saw last year. And the biggest difference is we’re not seeing the same deaths that we saw.”

As of Wednesday, 53% of people age 12 and older in the municipality are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Johnston said she thinks the increase in cases, and now hospitalizations, in the municipality is a combination of the delta variant emerging in Anchorage and individual people relaxing their pandemic precautions.

“The preventive measures that we had been taking that were working very well, are not being used as much,” she said, talking about things like distancing and wearing masks. “And that’s OK for people who are fully vaccinated. But for people who are not vaccinated, which is about 50% of our population, we really still need to be masking and distancing, particularly if you’re out, inside in public places.”

Johnston said the best way to combat Anchorage’s rising COVID-19 cases it to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, including eligible school-aged students.

“We clearly hoped to see more people fully vaccinated by now,” she said.

Locations for free vaccinations in Anchorage can be found at anchoragecovidvaccine.org.

Statewide vaccination information can be found on the COVID-19 section of the health department’s website.

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