Alaska reports record high of over 3,600 COVID-19 cases over 2 days

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 12:59 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 4:28 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska reported a record high of 3,640 additional COVID-19 infections over the past two days as the omicron variant continues to spread across the country and state, impacting the number of health care workers who can respond.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Friday reported a total of over 3,600 positive COVID-19 cases over the last two days, 106 of which are among nonresidents. Of the cases that are among Alaska residents, there were 1,784 for Wednesday and 1,750 for Thursday. The single-day total 1,784 cases for Wednesday broke the previous record of 1,719, which had been set on Sept. 23.

The single-day report of 1,750 positive cases for Thursday is now the second-highest daily case total since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. State case data shows a 151% increase in new cases over the last week compared to the week of Dec. 24-30. The sharp increase is attributed by health experts to the omicron variant, which is highly transmissible.

The spike in case numbers comes a day after Alaska’s top doctors warned of an impending increase. Though just seven omicron variant cases have been identified thus far in Alaska, omicron became the dominant variant in the U.S. late last year. State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin has said that the public health lab is screening positive COVID-19 tests for an “S gene target failure” and all indications are that omicron is the dominant variant in Alaska.

“What we’ve found over the past five days or so is anything from 80 to 95% of the samples that are tested are coming back positive for that target failure,” McLaughlin said Thursday. “Indicating that the vast, vast majority of cases are omicron.”

The number of people being hospitalized in Alaska with COVID-19 rose to 70 on Friday, up from 56 on Wednesday. Six of those people are on ventilators. While this is still much lower than the record high of 243 hospitalizations during the delta variant surge this fall, hospitals are facing a different problem, according to Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President and CEO Jared Kosin.

“We’ve watching this move across the country,” he said Friday. “This potential surge feels different.”

While hospitalizations have remained lower than the previous surge, the omicron variant is forcing more health care workers to stay home, either sick or because of a COVID-19 exposure. That directly affects the ability of state hospitals to respond to COVID-19 hospitalizations, whether that’s a large number or a smaller one.

“The hospitalizations were such a key metric that we kind of all had our heads wrapped around before,” Kosin said. “It’s a different equation than before.”

Without the staff to provide services in the hospitals, the capacity of those hospitals isn’t as helpful, Kosin explained. Large hospitals with lots of beds for patients are “useless unless you have people to actually work them,” he said.

That’s something that could potentially manifest in this situation with omicron, Kosin said.

“We have physical occupancy, but now we’re starting to see that staff element decline,” he said.

Kosin said hospitals will continue to watch the spread of the variant, though it’s too early to know exactly what it will do. He said Alaska’s hospitals are preparing for the possibility that service could become limited by the staffing challenges. He said that’s likely something businesses outside of the health care sector are going to experience, too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alaska’s average rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita over the last week is 586.2. The case rate for the nation as a whole is 1,236. Alaska’s current case rate ranks the state 45th in the nation.

The state also reported one additional COVID-19-related death on Friday, of an Alaska resident. The person who died was a man in his 70s from the Hoonah-Angoon plus Yakutat area.

Since the pandemic began, the state has recorded a total of 948 resident deaths and 32 nonresident deaths that have been related to the virus.

The rate of Alaskans who have received doses of vaccination remains largely unchanged since the state last reported those figures on Wednesday. Over 68% of Alaskan residents and military members stationed in Alaska have had at least one dose of vaccine, while nearly 61% have been fully vaccinated. Over 22% of Alaskans and military have received booster doses, according to state data.

The state’s average rate of positive COVID-19 test results has jumped to 18%, an increase of over 4% in just the last two days. That figure does not include the number of at-home COVID-19 tests. The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests has been used to measure whether enough testing is occurring in a community and as an indicator as to whether virus transmission is widespread. However, McLaughlin said Thursday that this is a metric the state department of health is not relying on so heavily anymore.

With more people utilizing at-home tests, which are not reported to the state or included in its data, the state is going to change the way it collects and reports testing data.

“We’re moving more towards looking at big trends over time,” McLaughlin said.

Of the 3,640 COVID-19 cases the state reported Friday, 3,534 of them were identified among Alaska residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 2,062
  • Fairbanks: 240
  • Juneau: 199
  • Kodiak: 144
  • Eagle River: 128
  • Greater Wasilla area: 87
  • North Pole: 53
  • Sitka: 42
  • Greater Palmer area: 38
  • Bethel: 31
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 29
  • Bethel Census Area: 27
  • Soldotna: 27
  • Metlakatla: 26
  • Nome Census Area: 26
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 24
  • Chugiak: 23
  • Homer: 21
  • Ketchikan: 21
  • Dutch Harbor: 20
  • Nome: 18
  • Unalaska: 16
  • Valdez: 16
  • Girdwood: 14
  • North Slope Borough: 14
  • Kenai: 13
  • Wrangell: 13
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 12
  • Haines: 11
  • Kotzebue: 11
  • Utqiaġvik: 11
  • Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula: 9
  • Craig: 9
  • Hoonah-Angoon plus Yakutat: 8
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 8
  • Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area: 8
  • Seward: 8
  • Sterling: 8
  • Copper River Census Area: 6
  • Dillingham: 6
  • Delta Junction: 5
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough South: 5
  • Willow: 5
  • Aleutians East Borough: 4
  • Hooper Bay: 4
  • Anchor Point: 3
  • Dillingham Census Area: 3
  • Aleutians West Census Area: 2
  • Ester: 2
  • Houston/Big Lake: 2
  • Kodiak Island Borough: 2
  • Nikiski: 2
  • Petersburg: 2
  • Sutton-Alpine: 2
  • Matanuska-Susitna Borough: 1
  • Skagway: 1
  • Southeast Fairbanks Census Area: 1
  • Tok: 1

Of the 106 additional nonresident cases reported for the last two days, 60 of them are in Anchorage and 12 are in Fairbanks.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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