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Alaska now has 5 confirmed omicron cases, reports 848 COVID-19 cases over the last 5 days

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 7:19 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska reported more than 800 additional COVID-19 infections over the last five days, and the state has now identified a total of five cases of the omicron variant. State health experts expect that number to grow as the highly transmissible variant continues to spread across the country.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 848 additional COVID-19 cases since last Friday, more than 50 of which are among nonresidents. The state is also now aware of five total cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin.

All five of those cases are in Anchorage residents. Two of the people in whom the omicron variant was detected had a recent history of travel outside the state, but two others did not. The state has not been able to contact the fifth person so their travel status is unknown.

McLaughlin said the fact that two of the omicron cases do not have a recent history of Outside travel indicates that the variant is spreading within Alaska.

“I full expect that these five cases represent just a subset of the total number of omicron cases in Alaska,” McLaughlin said Monday.

He also expects to start seeing Alaska’s COVID-19 case count rise as the variant continues to spread. McLaughlin pointed out that sequencing case specimens to find out whether they are the result of the omicron variant takes time, sometimes up to two weeks. A better indicator heading into the next week or so is going to be Alaska’s overall COVID-19 case trends, he said.

“We do know at this point that omicron is more transmissible than delta, and remember delta was more transmissible than alpha … so this is a very, very transmissible variant, and so these layered protections can be helpful to really prevent a large surge in cases,” McLaughlin said.

Those layered protections include getting an initial vaccine series if someone has not yet, getting a booster dose if eligible, social distancing, testing when symptomatic and also testing when asymptomatic in certain circumstances — when traveling or when someone is about to attend a gathering.

There were 25,000 at-home COVID-19 test kits heading to Anchorage through a state program to be made available to the public Monday, but the Anchorage Health Department posted to social media on Monday that the shipment was delayed due to the holidays.

“We expect to get them shortly,” the department wrote. “These test kits will be made available at no cost to Anchorage residents at various sites across town.”

Additionally, McLaughlin said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now recommending that people double mask when in public settings, and also encouraging the use of a N95 respirator when around those who are particularly vulnerable.

The CDC also on Monday updated its guidance for the recommended isolation and quarantine times for those who test positive for COVID-19. The agency is shortening the recommended isolation time for asymptomatic people who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five, followed by five days of mask wearing when around others.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC wrote.

Health authorities are also recommending people choose the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine over the Janssen vaccine, McLaughlin said.

While health experts do know the omicron variant is spreading much more easily than delta, there is not yet consensus on whether it is more or less virulent, McLaughlin said. Two recent British studies suggested the omicron variant is less likely to send people to the hospital, but McLaughlin said there are some preliminary studies that don’t show a big difference in that regard between the two variants. It’s still unclear at this point.

McLaughlin did say that as COVID-19 cases have risen significantly nationwide over the last week, the number of hospitalizations grew by much less. Hospitalizations and deaths, though, are the most lagging indicators of how COVID-19 is affecting a community, he pointed out.

The decline in new COVID-19 cases Alaska has been experiencing since the delta variant surge is very likely to end soon, according to McLaughlin. Currently, Alaska ranks 49th out of all 50 states for its rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita, a metric the state once led at the height of the delta surge.

On Monday, the state health department reported data from the last five days over the Christmas holiday. Alaska saw 246 cases among residents reported for last Wednesday, 294 for Thursday, 107 for Friday and just 58 for Christmas Day, and 89 for Sunday. There were also 54 cases among nonresidents over the last five days.

The state reported no additional deaths during that time.

There are 57 people being hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, hospital data shows, and a total of 14 patients on ventilators. The state’s hospital data dashboard shows that 5.5% of all people hospitalized in Alaska are being hospitalized with COVID-19.

State vaccine data shows that just over 60% of all eligible Alaskans age 5 and older are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 67.5% have gotten at least an initial vaccine dose. Just over 21% of eligible Alaskans have also gotten a booster dose of a vaccine. McLaughlin noted on Monday that health experts have been seeing a lot of repeat cases of COVID-19 and breakthrough cases attributed to the omicron variant.

Of the 848 COVID-19 cases reported for the last five days, 794 of those were identified among Alaska residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 266
  • Fairbanks: 86
  • Juneau: 64
  • Greater Wasilla area: 57
  • Ketchikan: 33
  • Sitka: 24
  • Eagle River: 22
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 20
  • North Pole: 19
  • Greater Palmer area: 18
  • Homer: 18
  • Soldotna: 14
  • Kodiak: 11
  • Hooper Bay: 10
  • Nome Census Area: 10
  • Bethel Census Area: 9
  • Hoonah-Angoon plus Yakutat: 8
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 8
  • Anchor Point: 6
  • Petersburg: 6
  • Copper River Census Area: 5
  • Delta Junction: 5
  • Girdwood: 5
  • Houston/Big Lake: 5
  • Sterling: 5
  • Chugiak: 4
  • Dillingham Census Area: 4
  • Kenai: 4
  • Kotzebue: 4
  • Bethel: 3
  • Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula: 3
  • Matanuska-Susitna Borough: 3
  • Nome: 3
  • North Slope Borough: 3
  • Willow: 3
  • Craig: 2
  • Dillingham: 2
  • Dutch Harbor: 2
  • Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area: 2
  • Unalaska: 2
  • Aleutians East Borough: 1
  • Cordova: 1
  • Denali Borough: 1
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 1
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough South: 1
  • Kodiak Island Borough: 1
  • Metlakatla: 1
  • Nikiski: 1
  • Seward: 1
  • Skagway: 1
  • Southeast Fairbanks Census Area: 1
  • Sutton-Alpine: 1
  • Utqiagvik: 1
  • Valdez: 1
  • Wrangell: 1
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 1

Of the 54 additional nonresident COVID-19 cases the state reported on Monday, 14 of them were in Anchorage and 11 were in Kodiak.

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