Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force submits draft vaccination plan to CDC

October 20, 2020 ANCHORAGE – The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) submitted Alaska’s draft COVID-19 Vaccination Plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday for review, as required for all states. The Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force prepared the document over the past several weeks as part of ongoing preparations for a safe and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine across the state of Alaska.  

The Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force is a partnership between DHSS and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). As a national leader in Tribal health, ANTHC works in partnership with Tribal health organizations of the Alaska Tribal Health System.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink considers statewide trust and safety to be crucial components of the planning efforts. “We are closely watching the progress of clinical trials to ensure no steps are missed during the clinical trial and data review process. For any vaccine made available to Alaskans, safety will remain our top priority. The initial data looks promising, but we will continue to follow it carefully.” 

“The Alaska Native Health Board appreciates DHSS recognizing the importance of collaboration with the Alaska Tribal Health System in taking an inclusive and coordinated approach in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and in the vaccination plan,” noted Alaska Native Health Board President and CEO Verné Boerner.

The Alaska COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force consists of eight teams, each co-led by ANTHC and DHSS personnel: planning, operations, software solutions, payers, pharmacy, communications and education, data, and a liaison team. This organization allows the task force to incorporate federal guidance and begin gathering relevant community perspectives in each domain. 

“Even though we do not know when or what type of vaccine will be available, we do know that we want to be prepared. Submitting this plan to the CDC is just the first step in the planning process, and we expect to make changes as new information becomes available,” said Tessa Walker Linderman, DHSS lead for the task force.

The task force is regularly assessing and incorporating guidance from the CDC regarding vaccine access and prioritization. The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available in limited supply at first, and the CDC will provide recommendations on prioritization of initial supply. Populations with prioritized access to the vaccine may include health care workers, staff and residents in long-term care and assisted living facilities, people at risk for severe COVID-19 illness, people at risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19, and critical infrastructure workers. 

Key planning partners are preparing for vaccine availability, including the Alaska State Hospital & Nursing Home Association. President and CEO Jared C. Kosin stated, “We are in constant communication with leaders from Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes so that we will all be ready for distribution of a vaccine to caregivers on the front lines. Our health care heroes continue to lead us through this crisis and effective distribution of the vaccine will be crucial to moving beyond the pandemic.”

The task force has also begun to meet with local partners as they will play critical roles throughout the vaccine distribution process. Local planning teams will engage many key pharmacy, vaccine provider, and point of dispensing (POD) partners, as well as being in position to capitalize on strengths at the community level and communicate about their areas of need. 

Matt Bobo, manager of the Alaska Immunization Program stated, “The plan highlights how the Alaska Immunization Program will use our existing vaccine provider network and accountability systems to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. Though there are unique considerations for the COVID-19 vaccine, our program already works with over 200 health care organizations to prevent and control vaccine-preventable disease in Alaska.” Health care facilities that wish to provide the vaccine will be able to enroll in a COVID-19 vaccine program, which is expected to open for enrollment in the coming weeks.

The draft plan and more information on Alaska’s COVID-19 vaccination planning can be found on the COVID-19 Vaccine Information webpage. a direct link to the plan can be found here.

Stay informed about COVID-19

No Signs of COVID-19 Found in City Waste Water Treatment Plant

Wastewater was tested for COVID-19 using a sensitive PCR test for coronavirus RNA. Wastewater samples were processed to obtain purified RNA, which was tested in the Conoco Phillips Integrated Science Building laboratory at UAA by a validated COVID-19 PCR detection assay, with a detection limit of <100 COVID-19 RNA copies/L (UAA, 26 June 2020). Methods for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in sewage are adapted from CDC protocols and detects genetic fragments of the virus. It does not determine if the virus is
dead or alive or the number of infected people.

See the attached report below for more information.

DHSS COVID-19 Weekly Case Analysis for October 4-10

Case trends and predictions

  • More cases (1,256) were reported in Alaskans this week than any previous week, beating last week’s record number of new cases (891) by more than 40%. Alaska continues to see a sharp acceleration in new cases. 
  • The sharp acceleration affected urban and rural regions. The largest increases in case rates were in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region, Anchorage Municipality and Fairbanks North Star Borough. The Northwest Region continues to have the highest two-week average case rate of any region of the state and saw increases this week.
  • The daily state case rate as of October 10 data is 21.4, up from 16.3 on October 3, a 31% increase. This number is cases per 100,000 people averaged over the last 14 days. The state alert level is high.
  • Compared to other states’ case rates, Alaska’s average case rate per capita over the last 7 days (25.5 average daily cases over the last week per 100,000) remains at the thirteenth highest of US states, just below Wyoming (27.3) and worse off than Missouri (24.4). If Anchorage were its own state, its 7-day case rate (34) would put it at rank #6, between Utah and Idaho, and if Fairbanks were a state, its 7-day rate of 40.7 would make it #5 in the nation, just behind Wisconsin. The Bethel Census Area would be #4 with a 7-day rate of 49, while the Northwest Arctic Borough’s 7-day case rate of 75 puts it at a higher average case rate this week than any state average in the US. Nationally, cases have been rising since mid-September, and increases have been seen in most states this week. 26 states currently have 7-day average case rates over 15 per 100,000 and an additional 17 states saw increases in their 7-day average case rate this week.
  • The reproductive number, a measure of contagion, is currently estimated to be approximately 1.18, a significant increase from 1.03 two weeks ago. A reproductive number of 1 means that each person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 gives it on average to one other person, so this increase means that Alaskans with COVID-19 are spreading it more readily than they were two weeks ago. A reproductive number of more than 1 also means that the epidemic is growing, and the goal is to have enough people wear masks, stay at least 6 feet from others, and stay home and get tested when they are sick that Alaska’s reproductive number decreases to well below 1. Our reproductive number was below 1 as recently as late August. 
  • An updated model epidemic curve predicts Alaska’s cases will continue to accelerate over the next week. Two weeks ago, cases were now expected to double every 105 days, with a daily projected growth rate of 0.66%. This projection has worsened, with cases now expected to double around every 20 days and a daily projected growth rate of around 3.5%.
  • Nonresident cases, which peaked in late July, decreased over August and until this week had remained at an average of around 3 new nonresident cases per day; this week around 5 new nonresident cases were identified per day.
  • Alaska continues to have the fewest COVID-19 related deaths per capita of any US state, but now has more total deaths than both Vermont and Wyoming. 

Regional trends

  • Anchorage Municipality,  Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Northwest Region and the Y-K Delta Region all had substantial and concerning increases in case rates this week, indicating accelerating cases and high levels of community transmission. The largest acceleration seen was in the Y-K Delta Region, with the two-week average case rate more than tripling, from 7.1 to 22.3. Fairbanks North Star Borough saw a 65% increase in case rate, from 21.2 to 35.0, while Anchorage Municipality’s case rate increased by 34% to 28.9 from 21.5 last week.   
  • Northwest Region increased by 16% from 30.7 to 35.7, remaining the highest rate of new cases of any borough reported.
  • The Interior Region moved into the high alert level this week with an increase to 11.3 from 7.9.
  • Mat-Su saw another significant case increase this week and is nearing the high alert level, with a case rate of 9.7 from 5.9 last week.
  • The Southwest region entered the intermediate alert level with a rise from 4.7 to 6.4.
  • Juneau City and Borough remains in the intermediate alert level with a modest increase this week from 7.4 to 7.8.
  • The Interior Region, Kenai and Northern Southeast Region also saw increases this week but remain at the low alert level.

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health RegionAverage new cases Aug 16 – 29Average new cases Aug 23- Sept 5Average new cases  Aug 30- Sept 12Average new cases Sept 5- Sept 19Average new cases Sept 12- Sept 26Average new cases Sept 27- Oct 3Average new cases Oct 4- Oct 10
Anchorage Municipality12.614.113.513.216.121.528.9
Fairbanks North Star Borough10.813.717.115.916.321.235.0
Interior Region except Fairbanks North Star Borough7.94.32.73.14.97.911.3
Juneau City and Borough5.16.313.416.312.37.47.8
Kenai Peninsula Borough5.82.92.21.82.53.68.0
Matanuska-Susitna Region6.24.94.34.74.05.99.7
Northern Southeast Region6.35.22.13.14.24.92.8
Northwest Region12.711.010.715.627.930.735.7
Southern Southeast Region6.15.22.5Insufficient data; low case rateInsufficient data; low case rateInsufficient data; low case rate2.2
Southwest Region1.72.34.23.53.54.76.4
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region7.37.66.0 8.48.77.122.3
Statewide7.07.98.710.211.716.321.4

New cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • The week of October 4-10 saw 1,256 new cases in Alaskans, a 41% increase from the week of September 27 -October 3’s 891 new cases, for a total of 9,686 cumulative cases in Alaskans. 
  • This is the highest number of new cases in one week ever reported in Alaska. The previous week, Sept 27- Oct 3, was the second highest. The third highest was 740 cases, reported between July 26 and August 1. 
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 324 with 24 new this week.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 2 to 60 total.
  • There were 36 nonresident cases identified this week, for a total of 1001. 

How COVID-19 spreads in Alaska

  • Most new infections among Alaskans are from community spread, not from travel. Most Alaskans get the virus from someone they work, socialize, or go to school with.
  • Many cases do not have a clear source, meaning that contact tracers have not been able to identify where the person got the virus. This means that there are cases in our communities that we do not know about. 
  • Many Alaskans who are diagnosed with COVID-19 report that they went to social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they knew they had the virus.
  • The distribution of cases among people of different races and ethnicities has not changed significantly since last week.
  • Cases continue to increase most rapidly in young adult Alaskans, especially those aged 20-29, and among Alaskans 10-19 and 30-39. 

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity

Includes data from all cases reporting one or more races. Based on these data, American Indian and Alaska Native as well as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately affected. One factor limiting interpretation is that a greater proportion of tests from the Alaska Native Tribal Health system currently have race indicated than tests from other sources, which may mean that cases in Alaska Native People are more likely to be reported as such than cases in people who receive care through non-tribal health systems. However, this should not significantly impact Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population case counts. 

If race or ethnicity is not identified with the initial test, contact tracers will attempt to collect this information, but these data are often delayed resulting in many cases still labeled under investigation or unknown. Additionally, people who are hospitalized or have died with COVID-19 are more likely to have a race identified. Because many cases that previously had unknown race or ethnicity now have an identified race or ethnicity, numbers of cases in different race and ethnicity categories have increased since last week beyond the number of new cases, so these numbers affect both newly diagnosed and newly categorized but previously counted cases. 

Race Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of cases of those for whom a race is knownIn cases of that race/ethnicity, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that race or ethnicity, percent who have died
American Indian and Alaska Native15.6%2,19729.6%4.9% 1.0% 
Asian6.5%4345.8%5.5% 1.2% 
Black/African American3.7%4035.4%2.5% 0.5%
Hispanic ethnicity**7.3%7337.6%***2.6%0.1%
Multiple races7.5%4075.5%3.2%0%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander1.4%4806.5%10.8% 1.5% 
White65.3%3,16742.6%2.8%0.8%
Other 3454.6%3.2% 0%
Unknown or not yet identified 2,253 1.1% 0%
All cases for whom a race is known 7,433 4.0%0.8%
All cases 9,686 3.3%0.6%

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/AK

**By federal convention, ethnicity is not mutually exclusive of race, so cases identifying Hispanic ethnicity are also counted under a race category.  

***Reports the percent of cases of those for whom an ethnicity is known.

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by age group

Includes data from all cases. For all ages, the percent of cases in that age group who have been hospitalized or who are deceased is either the same or decreased from last week. Hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag new cases by several weeks, so we expect to see case numbers rise (and percentages therefore fall) well before we see substantial increases in hospitalizations or deaths. 

Age group (years)Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of casesIn cases of that age group, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that age group, percent who have died
<1014.2%4985.1%0.6%0%
10-1913.3%1,01710.5%0.2%0%
20-2915.2%2,34124.2%0.8%0%
30-3914.7%1,84019.0%1.5%0.1%
40-4911.7%1,31613.6%3.3%0.3%
50-5912.8%1,24912.9%4.7%0.5%
60-6911.3%8839.1%7.4%1.2%
70-794.7%3773.9%17.8%6.1%
80+~2%**1651.7%23.0%8.5%
All cases 9,686   

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates via Census Reporter: https://censusreporter.org/profiles/04000US02-alaska/

**Margin of error is at least 10% of the total value

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by sex

SexPercent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of casesIn cases of that age group, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that age group, percent who have died
Male52%4,83950%3.6%0.8%
Female48%4,84650%3.1%0.4%

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates via Census Reporter: https://censusreporter.org/profiles/04000US02-alaska/

Testing trends

  • Testing increased at a steady rate throughout May, June and July, slowed in mid-August, and is starting to increase again. Over half a million tests have been performed so far in Alaska (505,924) and current laboratory turnaround times average 1-2 days. 
  • Alaska has the capacity to continue expanding testing. DHSS can assist in materials for setting up new testing sites and is pursuing all avenues for expanding testing. 

Positivity rates

  • The statewide test positivity rate went from 3.9% to 4.6% this week, which is the second week in a row that it is the highest it has ever been. Positivity rate is calculated by dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of tests performed over a given period of time, averaged over the past seven days. Statewide test positivity had not been above 3% since April, and had never before exceeded 3.5%, but has been climbing from below 2% in early September and the increase has accelerated.  
  • Currently, the national average is 5.0%. While many states have a higher positivity rate than Alaska does, this rise is concerning because the positivity rate is our best measure of whether our testing capacity can keep up with current cases. A rise in positivity rate reflects that testing is not increasing as fast as the current increase in cases. Since Alaska’s per-capita testing capacity is more robust than almost any other state, the finding that the positivity rate is nearing the national average is concerning. Source: Johns Hopkins
  • The reported test positivity rate is currently highest in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, with a rate of 11.8%, increased from 10.5% last week. Anchorage Municipality has a test positivity rate of 5.0%, an increase from 4.6%; similarly the Mat-Su Borough, Bethel Census Area and Valdez-Cordova Census Area have rates around 5%. The North Slope Borough’s reported test positivity rate is now 6.25%, significantly improved from that reported last week (19.2%), although is limited by being based on a smaller number of tests. The Northwest Arctic Borough’s positivity rate is reported as 2.7%, much better than last week’s rate of 6.4%. 
  • Test positivity is a good measure of whether testing is adequate in a given area, since it is affected by the number of tests performed as well as the number of new cases in an area. However, because it depends so much on the number of tests performed, it tells us more about whether we are doing enough testing than about how much virus is spreading in a community. It cannot be used to compare the amount of virus spread in one state to another, but it can be used to compare whether different states are doing adequate enough testing to be able to measure their case rate. It is also affected by any delays in reporting, since positive tests are sometimes reported faster than negative tests. A case rate can give good information about how much virus is spreading in a community, as long as the test positivity is low, so these measures can work together to help us understand the spread of virus in a community. A community test positivity rate under 5% is currently generally accepted as being low enough to estimate that a community’s case rate is reasonably accurate.  
  • In late August, Alaska led the nation in most tests per capita and continues to be among the top 3 states in tests per capita. Alaska’s high testing rates likely affect our hospitalization and death rates, since in places where tests are restricted to people who are very ill, many asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 cases are missed. In Alaska, testing is somewhat more available in many communities than in many communities in the lower 48, so we may detect more COVID-19 cases relative to the real number of people with COVID-19 than in states that do less testing per capita. Hospitalization and death rates are calculated by dividing the number of people who were hospitalized or who died by the number of people in that group that were known to have COVID-19, regardless of the severity of their illness. 
  • We do not have a reason to believe that the strains of COVID-19 are any less virulent in Alaska than elsewhere; in fact, in the genetic studies done so far of COVID-19 strains circulating in Alaska, virus that was as virulent or more so than that circulating in the Western United States was identified. This means that the virus present in many communities in Alaska has the ability to make people of all ages very sick if it is allowed to continue to spread. 

Health care capacity

  • The data hub has been updated to reflect adult and ICU hospital bed capacity around the state. Adult bed occupancy can also be viewed at the following link which appears at the top of the data hub page: https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/datasets/table-6c-geographic-distribution-of-adult-hospital-survey-results/data 
  • Hospital data includes inpatient beds and ventilators located all around the state, including some in smaller hospitals without ICU capacity. Hospital beds also do not necessarily represent staffed beds, as staffing can change quickly, particularly if a community has many health workers impacted by COVID-19.
  • Currently, 36 Alaskans with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are hospitalized. Of these, 8 are currently requiring a mechanical ventilator. 

COVID-19 and travel

  • Travel is not currently thought to be a main factor in most new COVID-19 infections in Alaska, meaning that most Alaskans who get COVID-19 are getting it from social, work or family contacts rather than travel. New cases in nonresidents have diminished since summer peaks, averaging around five new cases per day over the last week, up from around three per day the previous few weeks.
  • Testing in airports is now in its 18th week, with 327,725 passengers screened total, 12,712 in the past week. In the last week, 4,911 (39%) of travelers tested prior to travel, 4,800 (38%) tested in the airport, 1,388 (11%) selected a 14-day quarantine and 1,613 (13%) followed another workplace and community protection plan. Of those tested in AK airports, 37 have been reported as positive, for a 0.8% positivity rate. Since airport testing began, 164,204 (50%) of travelers have tested prior to travel, 101,692 (31%) have been tested in an airport in Alaska, 33,469 (10%) have selected a 14-day quarantine, and there have been 551 positive tests overall. This does not include anyone who tested positive later in their travel quarantine or isolation period, only those who tested positive at time of entry.
  • The positivity rate in airport tests has been significantly higher than average in the past three weeks, averaging 0.84% compared to an overall average of 0.54%. As expected, the airport test positivity rate continues to be much lower than the state’s average positivity rate as these tests are performed in people who believe themselves to be well enough to travel, and many travelers to Alaska test before they arrive in Alaska, meaning that many infections are likely caught before a traveler arrives.
airport1
aiport2
airport3

What Alaskans should do 

  • Anyone with even one new symptom of COVID-19 (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), even if it is very mild, should get tested for COVID-19 right away and immediately isolate themselves from others by staying home, staying away from others, and not leaving their house except to seek testing or other medical care. Tests are most accurate in the first few days of symptoms, so testing as soon as possible after the first symptom starts is important, even if the symptom is very mild. Getting tested right away also helps contact tracers move as quickly as possible. 
  • Alaskans can help contact tracers work to slow the spread of COVID-19 by answering the phone promptly and providing accurate information.
  • Alaskans should avoid gatherings, wear masks when around any non-household member, keep six feet of distance from anyone not in their household and wash hands frequently to slow community transmission of COVID-19.

Further information

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

Revised Travel Protocols Take Effect October 16

Health Mandate 10, which addresses requirements regarding travel into Alaska, has been revised. The new changes take effect just after midnight tonight. The changes keep protective protocols in place but are aimed at making the rules simpler and easier to understand.

Key changes include:

• Changes to the Travel Portal now consolidate information for residents and nonresidents. As before, Alaska residents are eligible for a free COVID test when they return to Alaska, if they so choose, and may also opt to self-quarantine for 14 days rather than take a test. Nonresidents are strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure but can test upon arrival into Alaska for $250.

• Travelers into Alaska are now required to social distance for 5 days. A second test is optional but not required. Five days is the median incubation period. Strict social distancing allows travelers to visit outdoor public places, but asks that travelers remain six feet away from anyone not in your immediate household, wear a face covering and not enter restaurants, bars, gyms, community centers, sporting facilities, office buildings, and school or daycare facilities. Do not participate in any group activities, including sporting events and practices, weddings, funerals, or other gatherings.

• A second test is optional and can be done 5-14 days after arrival

• Residents leaving and returning to Alaska within a 72 hour window do not need to test or quarantine on return.

• Critical infrastructure workers should follow their company’s protocols any time they travel.

• Local restrictions still apply. Please check with local communities before you travel. To read the revised mandate: https://covid19.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/10152020-COVID-MANDATE-010-REVISED.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3gs0vb2O9zRmC22QJ7lp_INTBNqDu49IC8SSeitPu0GMI5pm6ZZwNo5YI

October 10: Sitka’s COVID-19 Alert Level Shifts from Moderate to Low

October 10, 2020

Sitka’s current COVID-19 alert level is LOW.

The following mitigation guidance is recommended:

  • Masks/face coverings recommended when 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained from others
  • Maintain physical distancing of 6 feet
  • Limit gathering size so a minimum of 6 feet can be maintained
  • Restaurants: delivery or carryout preferred

To view Sitka data, visit the CBS COVID-19 Dashboard at https://cityofsitka.org/. For State of Alaska data, visit https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/.

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through SEARHC at https://covid19.searhc.org/ and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at https://covid19.alaska.gov/.

News Release: October 7 Unified Command Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES SATURDAY’S FREE

 FLU VACCINATION CLINIC

SITKA, October 7, 2020 – This week Unified Command discusses Saturday’s free community flu vaccination clinic and the newest FEMA demands.

Since last week, Incident Commander, John Leach stated we have remained at Moderate Alert Level and after this Saturday we will be coming down into Low Level if no new cases are reported.

FEMA has asked for additional details on our requests. Most recently they asked about our installation of plexiglass barriers and wanted to know if we installed them because there was an infection in the building or an infectious exposure within the last 7 days before installation. Requests made by FEMA are adding an additional layer of difficulty and time to the reimbursement process.

Craig Warren, Operations Section Chief, reminded of the free flu vaccination clinic that will take place this Saturday at Harrigan Centennial Hall, 10 am – 2 pm.

John Holst, Sitka School District Superintendent, is feeling confident about the District’s response to the change in Alert Levels and is looking forward to dropping back down to low. Next week the District will have a flu vaccination clinic take place for all staff. 

Jay Sweeney, Finance Section Chief, stated FEMA is taking a stance in reimbursing only things they consider valid costs. These costs are directly related to the response of a spreading pandemic. FEMA considers protective measures taken to prevent a pandemic directed for CARES Act funding.

Sitka Unified Command urges citizens to remain diligent and practice proper hygiene measures, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others and keeping your social circle small. In addition, stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering when around others, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces on a regular basis.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu – fever, aching, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned you might have contracted the coronavirus contact the COVID hotline at 966.8799 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the SEARHC 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse. 

Free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic patients is available every weekend. Residents can receive a self-swab nasal test between the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center Testing Site, no appointment necessary. For more information, contact the SEARHC COVID-19 Hotline at 966.8799. Results are available in approximately seven (7) days.

The Emergency Operations Center encourages residents to prepare for any local emergency by ensuring each family member has a 14- day emergency supply kit, including any necessary medications.

For information on the local pandemic response, visit cityofsitka.org or covid19.searhc.org.

# # #

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Case Update: Sept. 27 – Oct. 3, 2020

Case trends and predictions

  • Alaska saw a sharp acceleration in new cases in the last week. The state had previously seen a steady rise over the preceding six weeks, but this last week saw substantial increases in case rates in nearly every region, with the largest increases in cases in Anchorage and Fairbanks. 
  • The daily state case rate as of October 3 data is 16.3, up from 11.7 on September 26th. This number is cases per 100,000 people averaged over the last 14 days. The state alert level is high. 
  • Compared to other states’ case rates, Alaska’s average case rate per capita over the last 7 days (20.1 average daily cases over the last week per 100,000) has jumped from #24 up to tying for #13 with Tennessee, just below Wyoming (21.6) and worse off than Alabama and Kansas, both at 19.6. between Nevada (13.4) and Indiana (12.7). If Anchorage were its own state, its 7-day case rate (18.4) would put it at rank #6, between Utah and Idaho, and if Fairbanks were a state, its 7-day rate of 33.6 would make it #5 in the nation, just behind Montana. The North Slope Borough would be #4 with a 7-day rate of 34.9, while the Northwest Arctic Borough’s 7-day case rate of 63.7 puts it at a higher average case rate this week than any state average in the US. Nationally, cases have been rising since mid-September, particularly in the Midwest but increases have been seen in most states this week. 24 states currently have 7-day average case rates over 15 per 100,000.
  • The reproductive number, a measure of contagion, is currently estimated to be approximately 1.14, an increase from 1.03 one week ago. A reproductive number of 1 means that each person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 gives it on average to one other person. A reproductive number of more than 1 means that the epidemic is growing, and the goal is to have enough people wear masks, stay at least 6 feet from others, and stay home and get tested when they are sick that Alaska’s reproductive number decreases to well below 1. Our reproductive number was below 1 as recently as late August.
  • An updated model epidemic curve predicts Alaska’s cases will continue to accelerate over the next week. One week ago, cases were now expected to double every 105 days, with a daily projected growth rate of 0.66%. This projection has worsened, with cases now expected to double around every 22 days, with a daily projected growth rate of around 3%.
  • Nonresident cases, which peaked in late July, decreased over August and continue to downtrend.
  • Alaska continues to have the fewest COVID-19 related deaths per capita of any US state, but this week passed Wyoming in total number of deaths. 

Regional trends

  • Anchorage Municipality and Fairbanks North Star Borough both had substantial increases in case rates this week, indicating accelerating cases and high levels of community transmission. Anchorage Municipality’s case rate is now 21.5 from 16.1 last week, while Fairbanks North Star Borough is at 21.2 from 16.3. 
  • Northwest Region increased from 27.9 to 30.7, remaining the highest rate of new cases of any borough reported.
  • The Interior Region and Mat-Su both saw significant case increases this week and moved into the intermediate zone, with case rates increasing to 7.9 and 5.9 respectively.
  • Juneau City and Borough improved to 7.4 from 12.3 the week before and is now in the intermediate zone.
  • The Y-K Delta region improved from 8.7 to 7.1, remaining within the intermediate zone.
  • The Interior Region, Kenai and Northern Southeast Region also saw increases this week but remain in the low transmission zone

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health RegionAverage new cases Aug 16 – 29Average new cases Aug 23- Sept 5Average new cases  Aug 30- Sept 12Average new cases Sept 5- Sept 19Average new cases Sept 12- Sept 26Average new cases Sept 27- Oct 3
Anchorage Municipality12.614.113.513.216.121.5
Fairbanks North Star Borough10.813.717.115.916.321.2
Interior Region except Fairbanks North Star Borough7.94.32.73.14.97.9
Juneau City and Borough5.16.313.416.312.37.37
Kenai Peninsula Borough5.82.92.21.82.53.55
Matanuska-Susitna Region6.24.94.34.74.05.86
Northern Southeast Region6.35.22.13.14.24.89
Northwest Region12.711.010.715.627.930.7
Southern Southeast Region6.15.22.5Insufficient data; low case rateInsufficient data; low case rateInsufficient data; low case rate
Southwest Region1.72.34.23.53.54.7
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region7.37.66.0 8.48.77.1
Statewide7.07.98.710.211.716.3

New cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • This week saw 924 new cases in Alaskans, a significant jump from last week’s 645 new cases, for a total of 8,405 cumulative cases in Alaskans. While 3,701 of those are recorded as being active, or 44%, and 4,704 Alaskans are thought to have recovered or completed their isolation period, data on recovery lags data on new cases and is not up to date. This should not be interpreted as the number of true active cases decreasing since data entry of recovered cases has increased in recent weeks; true active cases are likely increasing significantly with rising case rates. For that reason, in future weekly case summaries we will not report the number of active or recorded cases, although this information can be obtained at the DHSS Data Hub linked above.
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 300 with 17 new this week.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 2 to 58 total.
  • There were 21 nonresident cases identified this week, for a total of 971. 

How COVID-19 spreads in Alaska

  • The majority of new infections among Alaskans are from community spread, not from travel. Most Alaskans get the virus from someone they work, socialize, or go to school with.
  • Many cases do not have a clear source, meaning that contact tracers have not been able to identify where the person got the virus. This means that there are cases in our communities that we do not know about.
  • Many Alaskans who are diagnosed with COVID-19 report that they went to social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they knew they had the virus.
  • The distribution of cases among people of different races and ethnicities has not changed significantly since last week.
  • Cases continue to increase most rapidly in young adult Alaskans aged 20-39. 

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity

Includes data from all cases reporting one or more races. Based on these data, American Indian and Alaska Native as well as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately affected. One factor limiting interpretation is that a greater proportion of tests from the Alaska Native Tribal Health system currently have race indicated than tests from other sources, which may mean that cases in Alaska Native People are more likely to be reported as such than cases in people who receive care through non-tribal health systems. However, this should not significantly impact Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population case counts. 

If race or ethnicity is not identified with the initial test, contact tracers will attempt to collect this information, but these data are often delayed resulting in many cases (currently 2,602, or 35%- improved 10% from last week) still labeled under investigation or unknown. Additionally, people who are hospitalized or have died with COVID-19 are more likely to have a race identified. Because many cases that previously had unknown race or ethnicity now have an identified race or ethnicity, numbers of cases in different race and ethnicity categories have increased since last week beyond the number of new cases, so these numbers affect both newly diagnosed and newly categorized but previously counted cases. 

Race Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of cases of those for whom a race is knownIn cases of that race/ethnicity, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that race or ethnicity, percent who have died
American Indian and Alaska Native15.6%1,90428.5%4.9% 1.1% 
Asian6.5%3925.9%5.6% 1.0% 
Black/African American3.7%3765.6%2.1% 0.5%
Hispanic ethnicity**7.3%69912.3%***2.7%0.1%
Multiple races7.5%3625.4%3.0%0%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander1.4%4486.7%11.4% 1.6% 
White65.3%2,89343.3%2.9%0.8%
Other 3084.6%3.6% 0%
Unknown or not yet identified 1,930 1.1% 0.1%
All cases for whom a race is known 6,683 4.2%0.9%
All cases 7,481 3.5%0.7%

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/AK

**By federal convention, ethnicity is not mutually exclusive of race, so cases identifying Hispanic ethnicity are also counted under a race category.  

***Reports the percent of cases of those for whom an ethnicity is known.

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by age group

Age group (years)Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of casesIn cases of that age group, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that age group, percent who have died
<1014.2%4405.1%0.7%0%
10-1913.3%88910.3%0.2%0%
20-2915.2%2,12524.7%0.8%0%
30-3914.7%1,63319.0%1.6%0.1%
40-4911.7%1,16013.5%3.5%0.3%
50-5912.8%1,11412.9%4.8%0.5%
60-6911.3%7759.0%7.5%1.4%
70-794.7%3353.9%19.1%6.3%
80+~2%**1421.6%25.4%9.9%
All cases 8,613   

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates via Census Reporter: https://censusreporter.org/profiles/04000US02-alaska/

**Margin of error is at least 10% of the total value

Cases by age

Note: Weeks of the year are numbered in the graph above; W39 refers to the week of September 21-September 27, 2020. 

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by sex

SexPercent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of casesIn cases of that age group, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that age group, percent who have died
Male52%4,34250.4%3.8%0.9%
Female48%4,27149.6%3.2%0.5%

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates via Census Reporter: https://censusreporter.org/profiles/04000US02-alaska/

Testing trends

  • Testing increased at a steady rate throughout May, June and July, slowed in mid-August, and is starting to increase again. Nearly half a million tests have been performed so far in Alaska (476,818) and current laboratory turnaround times average 1-2 days. 
  • Alaska has the capacity to continue expanding testing. DHSS can assist in materials for setting up new testing sites and is pursuing all avenues for expanding testing. 

Positivity rates

  • The statewide test positivity rate went from 2.4% to 3.9% this week, which is the highest it has ever been. Positivity rate is calculated by dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of tests performed over a given period of time, averaged over the past seven days. Statewide test positivity had not been above 3% since April, and has never before exceeded 3.5%, but has been climbing from below 2% in early September and the increase has accelerated.  
  • Currently, the national average is 4.6%. While many states have a higher positivity rate than Alaska does, this rise is concerning because the positivity rate is our best measure of whether our testing capacity can keep up with current cases. A rise in positivity rate reflects that testing is not increasing as fast as the current increase in cases. Since Alaska’s per-capita testing capacity is more robust than almost any other state, the finding that the positivity rate is nearing the national average is concerning. Source: Johns Hopkins
  • Of boroughs or census areas in the high risk zone, the reported test positivity rate is currently highest in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, with a rate of 10.5%, nearly double their rate of 6.0% last week. Anchorage Municipality has a test positivity rate of 4.6, an increase from 2.8%. The North Slope Borough’s reported test positivity rate is currently 19.2%, which is very concerning, although is limited by being based on a smaller number of tests. The Northwest Arctic Borough’s positivity rate is reported as 6.4%. Kusilvak Census Area also reports a high positivity rate but this is based on such a small number of tests that the data is not currently considered complete.
  • Test positivity is a good measure of whether testing is adequate in a given area, since it is affected by the number of tests performed as well as the number of new cases in an area. However, because it depends so much on the number of tests performed, it tells us more about whether we are doing enough testing than about how much virus is spreading in a community. It cannot be used to compare the amount of virus spread in one state to another, but it can be used to compare whether different states are doing adequate enough testing to be able to measure their case rate. It is also affected by any delays in reporting, since positive tests are sometimes reported faster than negative tests. A case rate can give good information about how much virus is spreading in a community, as long as the test positivity is low, so these measures can work together to help us understand the spread of virus in a community. A community test positivity rate under 5% is currently generally accepted as being low enough to estimate that a community’s case rate is reasonably accurate. 
  • In late August, Alaska led the nation in most tests per capita and continues to be among the top 3 states in tests per capita. Alaska’s high testing rates likely affect our hospitalization and death rates, since in places where tests are restricted to people who are very ill, many asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 cases are missed. In Alaska, testing is somewhat more available in many communities than in many communities in the lower 48, so we may detect more COVID-19 cases relative to the real number of people with COVID-19 than in states that do less testing per capita. Hospitalization and death rates are calculated by dividing the number of people who were hospitalized or who died by the number of people in that group that were known to have COVID-19, regardless of the severity of their illness. 
  • We do not have a reason to believe that the strains of COVID-19 are any less virulent in Alaska than elsewhere; in fact, in the genetic studies done so far of COVID-19 strains circulating in Alaska, virus that was as virulent or more so than that circulating in the Western United States was identified. This means that the virus present in many communities in Alaska has the ability to make people of all ages very sick if it is allowed to continue to spread. 

Health care capacity

  • Due to a change in hospital reporting in late September, hospital data on the data hub no longer reflects inpatient and ICU beds available for adult patients. This change resulted in hospitals reporting infant beds, including infant ICU beds (NICU beds) in the total beds available, increasing the total number of beds counted. However, since the beds newly added to the total do not reflect beds that can be used for adults or older children, the current method of hospital reporting is not as useful for determining the capacity in the state should an increased number of adults or older children require inpatient or critical care. While DHSS is working towards a hospital data hub that better reflects the state’s real capacity to respond to increased COVID-19 hospitalizations, the current data is available on the data hub but should be viewed with these caveats in mind. Additionally, hospital data includes inpatient beds and ventilators located all around the state, including some in smaller hospitals without ICU capacity. Hospital beds also do not necessarily represent staffed beds, as staffing can change quickly, particularly if a community has many health workers impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Currently, 45 Alaskans with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are hospitalized. Of these, 6 are currently requiring a mechanical ventilator. 

COVID-19 and travel

  • Travel is not currently thought to be a main factor in most new COVID-19 infections in Alaska, meaning that most Alaskans who get COVID-19 are getting it from social, work or family contacts rather than travel. New cases in nonresidents have diminished and have averaged fewer than three new cases per day over the last few weeks.
  • Testing in airports is now in its 17th week, with 314,981 passengers screened total, 13,824 in the past week. In the last week, 5,935 (43%) of travelers tested prior to travel, 5,027 (36%) tested in the airport, 1,229 (8.9%) selected a 14-day quarantine and 1,663 (12%) followed another workplace and community protection plan. Of those tested in AK airports, 51 were positive, for a 1.0% positivity rate. Since airport testing began, 159,293 (51%) of travelers have tested prior to travel, 96,882 (31%) have been tested in an airport in Alaska, 32,081 (10%) have selected a 14-day quarantine, and there have been 514 positive tests overall.
  • The positivity rate in airport tests has more than doubled from 0.4% to 1.0% in the last two weeks, a concerning rise.
airport percent positivity
positive tests from airport testing
airport 3

What Alaskans should do 

  • Anyone with even one new symptom of COVID-19 (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), even if it is very mild, should get tested for COVID-19 right away. Tests are most accurate in the first few days of symptoms, and if the test is positive, getting tested right away helps contact tracers move as quickly as possible. 
  • Alaskans can help contact tracers work to slow the spread of COVID-19 by answering the phone promptly if contacted and providing accurate information.
  • Alaskans should avoid gatherings, wear masks when around any non-household member, keep six feet of distance from anyone not in their household and wash hands frequently to slow community transmission of COVID-19.

 Further information

CITY AND BOROUGH OF SITKA ANNOUNCE NEW PANDEMIC GRANT PROGRAMS FOR BUSINESSES AND NONPROFITS

The City and Borough of Sitka (CBS) is now accepting grant applications from Sitka businesses and nonprofit organizations that have experienced severe economic impacts due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Assembly has authorized expenditure of $3 million in federal CARES Act funds for these grants. The deadline to apply for these grants is October 31. Grant awards are anticipated in November, and all funds must be expended by December 30, 2020. 

CBS accepted applications for a first round of business and nonprofit grants in August. These grants were designed to be available to as many entities as possible. The application process and criteria were the same for businesses and nonprofit organizations, and grants were based on prior year revenue. CBS is still processing these applications, and expects to complete awards this month. Eligible businesses and nonprofits that wish to apply for the new “Phase 2” grants must complete new applications.

Separate applications for the business and nonprofit grants, guidelines and answers to frequently-asked questions are available on the CBS website, www.cityofsitka.org. Applicants are strongly encouraged to use the downloadable forms as they include auto-calculation fields to help determine eligibility, and the potential grant amounts for the business applicants.

Questions can be forwarded to CARES Act Grant Technician Rob Allen at rob.allen@cityofsitka.org or (907)747-1824.

###

DHSS COVID-19 Weekly Case Analysis: September 20-26

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Weekly Case Analysis

September 20-26, 2020

Case trends and predictions

  • Overall, new cases in Alaska are increasing, continuing a steady rise over the last six weeks. The daily state case rate, as of Sept. 26, is 11.7 cases per 100,000 people averaged over the last 14 days, so the state alert level continues to be high. This is up from 10.2 last week and 8.7 the week before.
  • Compared to other states’ case rates, Alaska’s average case rate per capita over the last 7 days (12.9 average daily cases over the last week per 100,000) puts it around the middle of US states at #24, between Nevada (13.4) and Indiana (12.7). If Anchorage were its own state, its 7-day case rate (18.4) would put it at rank #19, between Wyoming (18.9) and North Carolina (18.3). Nationally, cases have been rising since mid-September, particularly in the Midwest but increases have been seen in most states this week. 
  • The reproductive number, a measure of contagion, is currently estimated to be approximately 1.03. A reproductive number of 1 means that each person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 gives it on average to one other person. A reproductive number of more than 1 means that the epidemic is growing, and the goal is to have enough people wear masks, stay at least 6 feet from others, and stay home and get tested when they are sick that Alaska’s reproductive number decreases to well below 1. Our reproductive number was below 1 as recently as late August.
  • An updated model epidemic curve predicts Alaska’s cases will continue to rise over the next week. One week ago, cases were now expected to double every 190 days, with a daily projected growth rate of 0.37%. This projection has worsened, with cases now expected to double around every 105 days, with a daily projected growth rate of 0.66%. 
  • Nonresident cases, which peaked in late July, decreased over August and continue to downtrend.
  • Alaska continues to have the fewest COVID-19 related deaths per capita of any US state, but this week passed Wyoming in total number of deaths. 

Regional trends

  • The Northwest Region had the steepest increase this week among communities with high transmission, with a rate now at 27.9 from 15.6 the previous week, becoming the highest rate of new cases of any borough reported. 
  • Anchorage Municipality remains in the high transmission category but reversed its trend of slow improvement, instead worsening from 13.1 to 16.1, a jump that brings it similar to Fairbanks in terms of case transmission.
  • Juneau City and Borough improved to 12.3 from 16.3 the week before.
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough remains steady at a high case rate, 16.3 this week from 15.9 the week before and 17.1 the week before that.
  • The Y-K Delta region increased from 8.4 to 8.7, remaining within the intermediate zone.
  • The Interior Region, Kenai and Northern Southeast Region also saw increases this week and still remain in the low transmission zone.
  • Other regions’ case rates downtrended or were stable and low this week.

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health RegionAverage new cases Aug 16 – 29Average new cases Aug 23- Sept 5Average new cases  Aug 30- Sept 12Average new cases Sept 5- Sept 19Average new cases Sept 12- Sept 26
Anchorage Municipality12.614.113.513.216.1
Fairbanks North Star Borough10.813.717.115.916.3
Interior Region except Fairbanks North Star Borough7.94.32.73.14.9
Juneau City and Borough5.16.313.416.312.3
Kenai Peninsula Borough5.82.92.21.82.5
Matanuska-Susitna Region6.24.94.34.74.0
Northern Southeast Region6.35.22.13.14.2
Northwest Region12.711.010.715.627.9
Southern Southeast Region6.15.22.5Insufficient data; low case rateInsufficient data; low case rate
Southwest Region1.72.34.23.53.5
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region7.37.66.0 8.48.7
Statewide7.07.98.710.211.7

New cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • This week saw 645 new cases in Alaskans, an jump from last week’s 558 new cases, for a total of 7,481 cumulative cases in Alaskans. 4,308 of those are considered active, or 58%, as 3,173 Alaskans are thought to have recovered or completed their isolation period. Data on recovery lags data on new cases and may not be up to date. 
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 283 with 21 new this week, more than the increase of 16 last week.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 11 to 56 total, a 20% increase in a single week.
  • There were 19 nonresident cases identified this week, for a total of 950. 

How COVID-19 spreads in Alaska

  • The majority of new infections among Alaskans are from community spread, not from travel. Most Alaskans get the virus from someone they work, socialize, or go to school with.
  • Many cases do not have a clear source, meaning that contact tracers have not been able to identify where the person got the virus. This could mean that there are cases in our communities that we do not know about.
  • Many Alaskans who are diagnosed with COVID-19 report that they went to social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they knew they had the virus.
  • The distribution of cases among people of different races and ethnicities has not changed significantly since last week.
  • Cases continue to increase most rapidly in young adult Alaskans, especially those aged 20-29, and among Alaskans 10-19 and 30-39. 

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity

Includes data from all cases reporting one or more races. Based on these data, American Indian and Alaska Native as well as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately affected. One factor limiting interpretation is that a greater proportion of tests from the Alaska Native Tribal Health system currently have race indicated than tests from other sources, which may mean that cases in Alaska Native People are more likely to be reported as such than cases in people who receive care through non-tribal health systems. However, this should not significantly impact Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population case counts. Currently, cases in this population are four times what would be expected based on estimated population (6.2% vs 1.4%). 

If race or ethnicity is not identified with the initial test, contact tracers will attempt to collect this information, but these data are often delayed resulting in many cases (currently 2,602, or 35%- improved 10% from last week) still labeled under investigation or unknown. Additionally, people who are hospitalized or have died with COVID-19 are more likely to have a race identified. Because many cases that previously had unknown race or ethnicity now have an identified race or ethnicity, numbers of cases in different race and ethnicity categories have increased since last week beyond the number of new cases, so these numbers affect both newly diagnosed and newly categorized but previously counted cases. 

Race Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of cases of those for whom a race is knownIn cases of that race/ethnicity, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that race or ethnicity, percent who have died
American Indian and Alaska Native15.6%1,46230%6.2% 1.3% 
Asian6.5%2274.7%7.5% 1.8% 
Black/African American3.7%2936.0%2.7% 0.7%
Hispanic ethnicity**7.3%46612.4%***3.2%0.2%
Multiple races7.5%3266.7%3.1%0%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander1.4%3176.5%15.1% 2.2% 
White65.3%2,00641.1%3.9%1.1%
Other 336 4.4% 0%
Unknown or not yet identified 2,602 0.03% <0.01%
All cases for which a race is known 4,879 5.3%1.1%
All cases 7,481   

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/AK

**By federal convention, ethnicity is not mutually exclusive of race, so cases identifying Hispanic ethnicity are also counted under a race category.  

***Reports the percent of cases of those for whom an ethnicity is known.

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution and distribution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths by age group

Age Group Percent of Alaska population*Number of casesPercent of casesIn cases of that age group, percent who were/are hospitalizedIn cases of that age group, percent who have died
<10 years14.2%3835%0.8% 0% 
10-19 years13.3%77210%0.1% 0% 
20-29 years15.2%1,88625%0.9% 0%
30-39 years14.7%1,44019%1.7%0.1%
40-49 years11.7%1,02914%3.9%0.4%
50-59 years12.8%98813%5.3% 0.6% 
60-69 years11.3%6809%8.2%1.3%
70-79 years4.7%2974%19.5% 7.1%
80+ years~2%**1222%28.7% 11.5%
All cases 7,481 3.8%0.7%

*Based on US Census Bureau 2019 estimates via Census Reporter: https://censusreporter.org/profiles/04000US02-alaska/

**Margin of error is at least 10% of the total value

Testing trends

  • Testing increased at a steady rate throughout May, June and July, but starting in mid-August, increases have slowed.
  • Alaska has the capacity to continue expanding testing. DHSS can assist in materials for setting up new testing sites and is pursuing all avenues for expanding testing. 

Positivity rates

  • The statewide test positivity rate, calculated by dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of tests performed over a given period of time, averaged over the past seven days, increased from 2.3% to 2.4% over this last week, continuing a climb from below 2% in early September. Statewide test positivity has not been above 3% since April, and has never exceeded 3.5%.
  • This is significantly better than the current national average test positivity rate of 5.0%. In comparison to other states, South Dakota currently has a positivity rate of 25.5%, while New York, which peaked at 50.7% in early April, has greatly expanded testing since then and currently has a positivity rate of 1.0%. Source: Johns Hopkins
  • Of boroughs or census areas in the high risk zone, the reported test positivity rate is currently highest in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, with a rate of 6.0%, significantly worse than their rate of 4.8% last week. Anchorage Municipality has a test positivity rate of 2.8%. The Juneau City and Borough’s positivity rate is 0.96%, improved from 1.6% a week prior. The North Slope Borough’s reported test positivity rate of 0% is not consistent with the rise in cases seen this week, with 265 new cases reported in the last week, and reflects insufficient reporting of data.
  • Test positivity is a good measure of whether testing is adequate in a given area, since it is affected by the number of tests performed as well as the number of new cases in an area. However, because it depends so much on the number of tests performed, it tells us more about whether we are doing enough testing than about how much virus is spreading in a community. It cannot be used to compare the amount of virus spread in one state to another, but it can be used to compare whether different states are doing adequate enough testing to be able to measure their case rate. It is also affected by any delays in reporting, since positive tests are sometimes reported faster than negative tests. A case rate can give good information about how much virus is spreading in a community, as long as the test positivity is low, so these measures can work together to help us understand the spread of virus in a community. A community test positivity rate under 5% is currently generally accepted as being low enough to estimate that a community’s case rate is reasonably accurate. 
  • In late August, Alaska led the nation in most tests per capita and continues to be among the top 3 states in tests per capita. Alaska’s high testing rates likely affect our hospitalization and death rates, since in places where tests are restricted to people who are very ill, many asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 cases are missed. In Alaska, testing is somewhat more available in many communities than in many communities in the lower 48, so we may detect more COVID-19 cases relative to the real number of people with COVID-19 than in states that do less testing per capita. Hospitalization and death rates are calculated by dividing the number of people who were hospitalized or who died by the number of people in that group that were known to have COVID-19, regardless of the severity of their illness. 
  •  We do not have a reason to believe that the strains of COVID-19 are any less virulent in Alaska than elsewhere; in fact, in the genetic studies done so far of COVID-19 strains circulating in Alaska, virus that was as virulent or more so than that circulating in the Western United States was identified. This means that the virus present in many communities in Alaska has the ability to make people of all ages very sick if it is allowed to continue to spread. 

Health care capacity

  • Hospital bed occupancy statewide remains steady. Hospitalizations peaked in early August and have plateaued since then. Ventilator capacity remains adequate overall. Hospital data includes inpatient beds and ventilators located all around the state, including some in smaller hospitals without ICU capacity. As of recent changes in reporting implemented September 27, 2020, hospital bed counts below currently include staffed beds only. Previous counts had included all beds, regardless of staffing. ICU bed counts below currently include NICU beds, which can be used only for infants, as well as pediatric and adult ICU beds.
  • Hospital occupancy below is based on data from September 27, 2020, as data from September 26, 2020 was not available due to a shift in reporting systems. An updated version of the confirmed COVID beds occupied graphic was not available in time for this report, however occupancy has not significantly changed this week. 

What Alaskans should do 

  • Anyone with even one new symptom of COVID-19 (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), even if it is very mild, should get tested for COVID-19 right away. Tests are most accurate in the first few days of symptoms, and if the test is positive, getting tested right away helps contact tracers move as quickly as possible. 
  • Alaskans can help contact tracers work to slow the spread of COVID-19 by answering the phone promptly if contacted and providing accurate information.
  • Alaskans should avoid gatherings, wear masks when around any non-household member, keep six feet of distance from anyone not in their household and wash hands frequently to slow community transmission of COVID-19.

Further information

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

News Release: September 30 Unified Command Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND URGES EVERY CITIZEN TO BE A COMMUNITY PARTNER AND DO THEIR PART

SITKA, September 30, 2020 – This week Unified Command discussed flu vaccination clinics, what the community can do to help keep the schools open and where to receive the latest local COVID-19 updates.

Incident Commander, John Leach reiterated Unified Command would meet weekly while in Moderate Alert Level and twice a week in High Alert Level. The work Unified Command has put into creating mitigation plans at the different Alert Levels has been executed successfully. There has not been a lot of panic with the change in our Alert Levels from Low to Moderate.

Dr. Bruhl, SEARHC Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Incident Commander of Unified Command stated SEARHC is working to support the City and Borough of Sitka, Emergency Medical Services, Mt. Edgecumbe High School, & the Sitka School District. There’s been an increase in testing capacity which will improve turnaround time for tests in addition to the former rapid Abbott test. We’ve had several patients in the hospital and in medical isolation that have been sent in from outside the Sitka area. 

SEARHC Marketing Director Maegan Bosak reported that asymptomatic testing continues to be popular. This past Saturday was the busiest day of testing with 180 patients being received at the testing site.  SEARHC is preparing for oncoming flu season. They are very concerned that the flu season combined with COVID-19 will have a significant impact on our schools and businesses. SEARHC will be hosting a community wide flu clinic on Saturday, October 10 from 10am to 2pm at Harrigan Hall. There will be walk-in and drive thru options available.  SEARHC has a goal to vaccinate 60% of the community with the flu vaccine.

John Holst, Sitka School District Superintendent thanked SEARHC for their support. The School District is hosting a flu vaccination clinic for their staff and considering a clinic, with parent approval for students. The District had a staff member test positive for COVID-19 on September 25. The school worked closely with the Public Health Nurse for contract tracing and issued a letter to Blatchley parents to address concerns. The School District is well prepared to respond in this situation. Staff was alerted on September 29 regarding the uptick in COVID-19 cases of the past 5-6 days and plans for moving forward with virtual instruction if necessary. Holst urged community members to continue to take the pandemic seriously and practice mitigation strategies to help keep the schools open. Community behavior directly impacts what happens at our schools.

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing shared that SEARHC is directly reporting positive cases to her for quick turnaround. This enables her to connect with a positive patient quickly and conduct contact tracing to reduce the transmission rate in the community. Ewing spoke favorably of the COVID-19 Dashboard. If there are organizations in our community that will benefit from having a flu vaccine Point of Distribution (POD), to please contact her at 907-747-3255 to set one up. Department of Health and Social Services stresses to the public if they receive a positive COVID-19 test result, the first step is to call the public health nurse. If asked to quarantine, stay in your home, and quarantine for the full 14 days.

Jessica Ieremia and Sara Peterson, COVID-19 Public Information Officers urges the community to visit the COVID-19 dashboard to get the latest updated local information for our community. The dashboard is located on the CBS COVID-19 Information Center https://cityofsitka.org/.  Additional data points may be added as we collect information.

Sitka Unified Command urges citizens to remain diligent and practice proper hygiene measures, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others and keeping your social circle small. In addition, stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering when around others, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces on a regular basis.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu – fever, aching, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned you might have contracted the coronavirus contact the COVID hotline at 966.8799 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the SEARHC 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse. 

Free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic patients is available every weekend. Residents can receive a self-swab nasal test between the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center Testing Site, no appointment necessary. For more information, contact the SEARHC COVID-19 Hotline at 966.8799. Results are available in approximately seven (7) days.

The Emergency Operations Center encourages residents to prepare for any local emergency by ensuring each family member has a 14- day emergency supply kit, including any necessary medications.

For information on the local pandemic response, visit cityofsitka.org or covid19.searhc.org.

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