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State epidemiologist calls Alaska’s COVID-19 case count ‘hopeful’

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 9:14 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s COVID-19 case counts have been decreasing since mid-January.

“I think it’s very hopeful,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said. “We are definitely on a steep downward trajectory from the omicron wave, and I think everybody is feeling very happy about that.”

As models are showing a sharp decline in new cases reported, numbers are getting close to where they were before the omicron variant was detected.

But most of Alaska continues to be in “high alert” — Alaska, or a region of the state, is on high alert if the 7-day case rate is more than 100 cases per 100,000 people.

“I think in the weeks ahead, next week or two, we’re going to see more and more regions of Alaska going from red to orange and hopefully even into yellow very soon.

The colors correspond with the COVID-19 alert levels. Red indicates an area has a high seven-day case rate, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 Cases Dashboard. Orange is considered substantial, meaning the seven-day case rate is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people. Yellow stands for moderate. Its seven-day case rate is 10 to 50 cases per 100,000 people. The lowest category is colored blue. A community is in low alert when there have been less than 10 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

Cases during the omicron wave were less severe than during the delta variant surge, McLaughlin said. The omicron-driven wave was shorter in duration, but there were many more cases, he said.

Now, more and more cases of the BA.2 omicron sub-variant are emerging in Alaska and the United States.

“In Alaska, it’s about 11.5% is the most recent proportion that I’ve seen and it’s right around that percentage in the United States as well,” McLaughlin said.

According to the World Health Organization, BA.2 is a variant of concern. McLaughlin said it is up to 50% more transmissible than the original omicron strain, but doesn’t seem to be causing more severe cases.

“Due to its greater transmissibility, it’s likely causing a slower rate of decline of the omicron wave in many parts of the world,” he said. “So we see sort of a tailing off of that omicron wave instead of just a continued sharp decrease.”

But McLaughlin said more cases are going unreported as at-home tests become more available, and it’s contributing to the decline in case counts.

“That’s a really important thing for folks to keep in mind is just what is happening on the big picture with omicron waves across the country and ... in each part of the globe,” he said.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also trending down, but case counts are the first indication of the wave’s trajectory.

Health officials encourage vaccination and say it’s the best tool to help decrease transmission and severe cases.

Alaska’s COVID-19 testing and therapeutics lead, Dr. Coleman Cutchins, said therapeutic treatments like monoclonal antibodies and antiviral pills are not as scarce as they were a few months ago, but they still do require a prescription.

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