The constant high daily case counts are translating to more deaths and hospitalizations that are stressing the health-care system, health officials say.
Three of the deaths occurred recently, according to state health officials: a woman from Anchorage in her 90s; a woman from Kodiak in her 80s; and a woman from Kenai in her 80s.
Nine of the deaths were reported following a review of death certificates: a woman from Kenai in her 90s; a woman from Cordova in her 90s; a woman from Utqiagvik in her 60s; a woman from Wasilla in her 60s; a man from Wasilla in his 60s; a man from Anchorage in his 80s; a man from Anchorage in his 60s who died out of state; and two women from Anchorage, both in their 60s.
The only day more deaths were reported was in late November when 13 people who died with the virus were added to state data. The new daily count is also a near-record after the state reported 760 cases Thursday. Officials say the daily reports underestimate the true number of positive cases because of a backlog in public health data.
In total, 141 Alaskans have died with the virus since it was first detected here in March. While the state’s overall death rate per capita remains one of the lowest in the country, state officials say it’s difficult to compare Alaska to other states because of its unique geography and vulnerable health-care system.
Officials continue to report that shrinking hospital capacity and limited staffing pose a significant concern statewide.
State data showed just five ICU beds available Friday in Anchorage hospitals, where the state’s sickest patients tend to end up.
By Friday, ICU capacity in Alaska was in the red zone, or more than 75% full. There were 134 people hospitalized with COVID-19, along with 15 people with suspected infections. Twenty-seven adult intensive care unit beds were available out of 125, and 14.3% of the adult hospitalizations in Alaska were COVID-related.
Of the 744 new cases reported by the state Friday among Alaska residents, there were 237 in Anchorage, plus 19 in Eagle River, four in Chugiak and one in Girdwood; 193 in Wasilla, 54 in Palmer, one in Big Lake and one in Sutton-Alpine; 23 in Soldotna, 17 in Kenai, six in Homer, two in Anchor Point, one in Seward, one in Nikiski and one in Sterling; 25 in Fairbanks and 10 in North Pole; 34 in Kodiak; 29 in Juneau and two in Douglas; 18 in Utqiagvik; seven in Delta Junction and two in Tok; eight in Bethel; three in Sitka; two in Chevak; one in Valdez; one in Kotzebue; and one in Wrangell.
Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were seven in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; six in the Bethel Census Area; six in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; four in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; three in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; two in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough; two in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs; one in the Kodiak Island Borough; one in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Nome Census Area; three in the Northwest Arctic Borough; two in the Kusilvak Census Area; one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon region; and one in the Dillingham Census Area.
Twelve cases were reported among nonresidents: four in Fairbanks, one in Delta Junction, one in Wasilla, one in a smaller Northwest Arctic Borough community, one in Sitka and four in unidentified regions of the state.
Anchorage this week entered a modified, monthlong “hunker down” in order to curb high rates of virus spread and protect health care capacity. State health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members, and report that most Alaskans who contract the virus get it from a friend, family member or coworker.
Travel is also currently considered a high-risk activity.
The Centers for Disease Control announced this week it was revising its quarantine guidance to allow people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to shorten their quarantine period from two weeks to as few as seven days with a negative COVID-19 testt.
More than 1 million tests have been performed in Alaska since March. While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
Among the new cases, the state does not report how many people show symptoms when they test positive. The CDC estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.
On Thursday, the state had an average positivity rate of 6.65% over the last seven days. Health officials warn that a positivity rate over 5% can mean there is not enough broad testing occurring in a community.