Omicron likely the predominant variant in Alaska, and likely less severe

KYES News at 6
Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 9:47 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - During most of December, Alaska’s COVID-19 cases were trending down, even as the omicron variant was emerging around the world and in the state.

However, State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said omicron seems to now be the dominant variant in the state, and it’s driving a sharp acceleration in cases.

Approx. new cases reported in Alaska
Approx. new cases reported in Alaska(KTUU)

December saw about 8,000 new cases reported through data summary emails from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. That’s the least amount of cases reported in a single month since July. But now, cases are trending upward in the state.

“The pandemic is on an upward trajectory, a steep upward trajectory in Alaska and throughout the United States,” McLaughlin said.

He said 3,576 cases were reported in Alaska residents during the week of Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

“This is a more than two-fold increase in the number of cases reported that week versus the previous week,” he said.

McLaughlin said it is the largest week-to-week increase during the pandemic. State case data shows new COVID-19 cases increased 262% over the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2, compared to the week of Dec. 20-26.

“Preliminary laboratory evidence suggests that the omicron variant has become the dominant SARS CoV-2 variant in Alaska and is driving this sharp acceleration in cases that we’re seeing statewide,” McLaughlin said.

Cases started dipping in November as the state started to recover from the delta variant surge, but it was just weeks before the first known case of omicron was made it to Alaska.

“The number of new COVID-19 cases has been rapidly increasing in the Municipality of Anchorage, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, in the City and Borough of Juneau. There was also an increase in cases in the Fairbanks North Star Borough,” McLaughlin said. There’s not a clear upward or downward trajectory yet in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, but many other boroughs and census areas in Alaska have also seen recent and large increases in COVID-19 cases.”

Hospitalizations in Alaska dropped during November, but McLaughlin said they will rise with omicron.

“Fortunately, the omicron variant does appear, with the current available evidence, to be less severe than other variants,” he said. “We’re still following the science on that closely.”

“But still,” he later continued. “The number of cases that you have per unit-time really determines how overwhelmed your health care system is going to be.”

At this point, McLaughlin said, it seems as though pediatric hospitalizations are rising with omicron, but it’s too early to tell.

The state coronavirus dashboard still has Alaska’s total number of confirmed omicron cases listed as seven, but McLaughlin said the Fairbanks lab has been closed for the last week because of the weather. He said a different kind of test is indicating a great majority of Alaska’s cases are likely omicron.

McLaughlin said vaccination and booster shots are the best tool against omicron.

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