DHSS Alaska Weekly Case Udpate

This data summary covers COVID-19 in Alaska from Friday, July 3rd through Thursday, July 9th, 2020. 

Background

The Alaska COVID-19 Weekly Case Update will be finalized every weekend with data from the previous week and the report will be published by the following Wednesday. Data are continually updated on the AK DHSS Data Hub, which reflects the most current case counts. This summary presents data from the previous week and is a snapshot of the information available on known cases at the time. 

New cases

This week saw 260 new cases in Alaskans and 35 in nonresidents, for a total of 1,323 and 258 respectively. This case increase is sharp and significant. More than one-fifth of COVID-19 infections in Alaskans since the pandemic began were discovered last week, suggesting a large increase in transmission in the state. 9 Alaskans required hospitalization this week for COVID-19, for a total of 80 since the epidemic began. One additional death was reported this week, for a total of 17. By convention, deaths are counted based on the residency of the patient rather than where they contracted the virus. 

Communities affected this week 

New cases were found in Alaskans who are residents of the following communities:

·         Anchorage (144), Chugiak (1), and Eagle River (4), for a total of 149 new cases in the Anchorage Municipality

·         Kenai (13), Seward (5), Soldotna (6), Homer (3) and Sterling (2), for a total of 29 new cases in the Kenai Peninsula Borough

·         Fairbanks (33) and North Pole (8), for a total of 41 new cases in the Fairbanks North Star Borough

·         Wasilla (13), Palmer (8), and Willow (3) for a total of 24 new cases in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough

·         Nome (2) and one in a smaller community, for a total of 3 new cases in the Nome Census Area

·         Bethel (1) and one in a smaller community, for a total of 2 new cases in the Bethel Census Area

·         Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (2)

·         Cordova (2)

·         Petersburg (2)

·         Unalaska (1)

·         Ketchikan (1)

·         Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula Census Area (1)

·         Kusilvak Census Area (1)

This map shows a rolling average of new cases in a given region.

7 day average

This map shows the number of cases per 100,000 people in a region, corresponding to the alert level associated with that amount of community transmission. 

14 day

How Alaskans acquired COVID-19

DHSS monitors how people most likely got the virus. In green in the plot below are Alaska residents who acquired COVID-19 by traveling to other states or countries. In March, a substantial proportion of our cases were related to Alaskans returning from elsewhere, while in April and May, fewer Alaskans traveled. Since June, as travel has started to increase, cases in Alaskans related to travel have begun to occur more regularly. 

In blue below are cases where Alaskans got COVID-19 from a known contact. These are people who did not leave the state, but we could trace their illness back to the person they got it from. The goal is for contact tracing to identify each of these cases where someone got it from someone else they had contact with so they can let all other contacts of both people know to quarantine. As contact tracing expanded in May, more cases from contacts were identified.

In red, however, are cases where Alaskans got COVID-19 and contact tracing was not able to establish a clear source. This demonstrates that there are other cases in our communities that we have not found yet. The biggest increase in cases in Alaska has been in people aged 20-39, with many cases linked to bars and social gatherings.

Grey bars show the cases where the investigation has not yet concluded. Since the workload for contact tracers has more than doubled in the last few weeks, they are working as fast as possible to identify and quarantine contacts. Alaskans can help contact tracers move faster and prevent more cases by keeping their contact list small, keeping a diary of who they are in close contact with (defined as within 6 feet for 10 minutes or more), wearing cloth face coverings when around any non-household members or in public, and responding promptly to being contacted. 

Case distributions

The majority of COVID-19 cases have been found in adults aged 20-39. Gender distribution has been equal, with about half in males and half in females. 

A majority of cases have been seen in non-Hispanic white Alaskans, although race and ethnicity information for many cases has not yet been reported. Races and ethnicities of cases, when known, are within a few percent of the proportion of those races and ethnicities in Alaska’s overall population, meaning that at this time a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 in one particular racial or ethnic group is not apparent. However, since this information is unavailable for more than a quarter of recorded cases, it is difficult to draw conclusions from these data. 

Nonresident cases

Of the 35 nonresident cases identified this week, 9 were in the Anchorage Municipality, 6 were in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula Borough, 5 were in Fairbanks North Star Borough, 3 were in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area, 2 were in Juneau City and Borough, 2 were in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and one each was in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Kodiak Island Borough and Petersburgh Borough. Five nonresident cases did not yet have their location identified. 

Of these, 13 were associated with the seafood industry, 5 with tourism or visiting purposes, and 4 with other industries. 

One was a passenger on the M/V Kennicott, the first case in a passenger on an Alaska state ferry. Despite spending eight days on the ferry before testing positive, 52 employees and the person’s traveling companion all tested negative for the virus and there have not been any cases found among other passengers. This is thought to be because the passenger wore a face covering and stayed 6 feet from others except for their traveling companion. 

Hospital capacity

Hospitals remain below capacity, with ventilators and ICU beds available. While 80 Alaskans have required hospitalization, there has not yet been a sharp increase in need for hospitalization with the rise in cases in June. However, other states have seen that it can be several weeks before people who get COVID-19 become ill enough to need hospitalization, so DHSS will monitor hospital utilization closely in the coming weeks. 

Recovered cases

49 Alaskans recovered from COVID-19 this week, for a total of 588, or 44% of total cases. 

Epidemic curve

This analysis projects growth or reduction in cases predicted in the coming weeks based on the growth of cases in recent weeks. The most recent 7 days (grey bars) are not included because there can be a delay in reporting data. This model assumes exponential growth or reduction in cases and can be a useful tool to visualize how quickly cases are increasing or decreasing. This curve does not project what might happen if more people start wearing masks or increase physical distancing; it assumes Alaskans and visitors to Alaska do not change their behavior. The dotted line is the average prediction, and the grey shaded area is estimated error for the predicted rise in cases. Currently, cases are predicted to double about every 10-11 days, significantly faster than last week where cases were projected to double every 14 days. 

For a full description of methods, visit https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/

Testing update

By Thursday evening, 21,723 tests had been conducted this week in Alaska, for a total of 141,931. Test positivity rate for this week was 1.33%, meaning around 13 in every 1000 tests performed came back positive. Not all positive tests represent distinct positive cases, since occasionally patients with COVID-19 are retested, however retesting did not significantly affect the positivity rate. 

Contact tracing

Ongoing contact tracing has uncovered many cases in Alaskans who have had possible exposures related to group activities. These include churches, residential living facilities, workplaces, bars and social gatherings. Alaskans should be aware that any gathering, particularly indoors, poses some risk of exposure and should take steps to minimize their risk and the risk they pose to others by keeping their social circles small, wearing face coverings, avoiding large gatherings, and gathering only if it is possible to remain 6 feet apart, ideally outdoors. Contact tracing has become even more resource intensive in recent weeks with both an increase in new cases and a marked increase in the number of contacts each person has- meaning that people are expanding their social circles even as case rates increase. The Anchorage Health Department announced this week that their system for contact tracing is unable to keep up with the volume of cases and contacts. Part of their response includes naming businesseslargely bars, that had a person with COVID-19 visit while infectious, social distancing was not followed and not everyone at the location could be contacted. 

Tourism, visitors and airport testing

This week saw 18,056 travelers screened at airports entering Alaska, and 6,170 (34%) opted to be tested on entry. The other options available to them were a 14 day quarantine (selected by 2,689 passengers, 15%) or providing proof of another test performed within 72 hours of landing in Alaska, which 8,880 passengers did (49%). The remaining 317 (2%) provided proof of having recovered from COVID-19, were essential workers following a community and workplace protection plan or were Alaskans who had been gone for fewer than 24 hours. 57 new cases were discovered through airport arrival testing, for a test positivity rate of 0.9%. 

Of the 35 cases in nonresidents this week, 5 were linked with tourism or visiting, including 2 in Anchorage, 1 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and 1 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. 

Seafood industry

Of 35 nonresident cases total identified this week, 13 are in workers in the seafood industry, including 5 in Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula Borough, 1 in the Anchorage Municipality, 1 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 1 in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, 1 in the Kodiak Island Borough, 1 in the Petersburg Borough, and 2 in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area. All nonresidents with COVID-19 are quarantined and contact tracing is ongoing for these cases. 

Reporting of deaths due to COVID-19

17 Alaskans are reported as having died from COVID-19. Although several of these deaths occurred in Alaskans who acquired the disease in another state and never traveled to Alaska during their illness, they are counted as deaths in our reporting by national convention. In accordance with national standards, case counts for Alaska reflect known cases in all Alaska residents, regardless of where they acquired the infection or where it was discovered. This provides consistency and avoids cases and deaths being double-counted between states. Cases found in Alaska that are not among Alaska residents are reported under nonresident cases. 

Data timeliness and accuracy

Weekly summaries are published early the following week because that gives the state public health workforce time to collect data, verify accuracy, make sure cases have not been counted in multiple places and verify patient identities. This summary is designed to review a week’s data from the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub dashboard, which displays same-day or next-day data. The dashboard data occasionally changes as new information is received or as cases are reclassified once verification takes place, since this process takes time. Weekly summaries reflect our most current and complete knowledge about cases in the previous week. 

Further information

Please see the State of Alaska COVID-19 information page for more information about the virus and how individuals and businesses can protect themselves and others from transmission. 

For the most up-to-date case information, see the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub dashboard. Some data may change as more information comes to light through contact tracing and other public health work. 

For questions regarding DHSS COVID response, including mandates and alerts, email covidquestions@alaska.gov. Since DHSS is experiencing a high volume of inquiries, the Frequently Asked Questions webpage can often be the quickest route to an answer regarding testing, travel, health mandates and other COVID-19 information. 

For DHSS media inquiries, please contact clinton.bennett@alaska.gov.

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