Alaska’s COVID-19 cases are decreasing, but it’s too soon to tell if the downward trajectory will last

State epidemiologist says case count appears to show good news
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 3:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s COVID-19 count is trending down for the first time in months, but state health experts say it’s too soon to tell if that trend will last.

“We have some — what appears to be good news, that case counts do appear to be decreasing,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said.

For the first time since June, the state saw fewer newly reported cases than the month before.

Alaska's approximate monthly case count
Alaska's approximate monthly case count(KTUU)

It could be a shift in the pandemic and the surge fueled by the delta variant, but health officials say it’s too soon to tell.

“It’s so difficult to predict what the future is going to bring,” McLaughlin said. “But what we can say now is this downward trend appears to be real, and it’s a good sign.”

October takes the spot for Alaska’s second-highest monthly case count. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported nearly 25,000 new cases for the month of October, according to daily case count summary emails.

Last month, September, had broken the record the long running record monthly case count with more than 27,000 cases initially reported by the state through daily case count summaries.

“It’s not a steep, steep decrease, but it is a decrease,” McLaughlin said. “So, this is something that we’re all happy to see.”

November 2020 had previously been holding the monthly case count record, with only about 16,000 new cases initially reported that month.

“We are definitely still in the red zone for most of Alaska,” McLaughlin said. “And so, it’s good to see that our case counts are starting to come down. But people still need to be very vigilant. COVID is circulating widely throughout Alaska.”

While the state’s overall case count is again decreasing, McLaughlin said the cases aren’t declining in all parts of the state.

“There are some regions that are not showing a similar decline,” he said on Nov. 1. “One region, for example, is the Northwest region of Alaska. Their cases are actually, you know, staying pretty stable and starting to actually increase in the last week.”

The data on deaths and hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of the state of the pandemic, McLaughlin said.

As the state’s cases are on a downswing, he said precautions are still an important factor in ending the pandemic.

“I just want to make sure that people know that they have some power over this virus and the power that they have is by developing immunity through vaccination, and just avoiding contact with the virus by, you know, wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowds, especially while we’re in this red zone,” McLaughlin said.

Alaska is in the “high” alert level because the state’s seven-day case rate is above 100. In early November, the case rate was near 600 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, Alaska’s case rate is 562.9, according to the CDC, which is close to four times that of the national rate.

The state reported about 60% of Alaskans 12 and older were fully vaccinated by the end of October. That number rose about 2% during the month.

The delta variant remains the predominate strain in Alaska, the United States and around the globe, McLaughlin said. While health officials still warn of the possibility more dangerous mutations could come along, he said Alaska is not seeing any shift to other variants of concern at this point.

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