DHSS COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update for November 8-14

Brief status report

  • Virus transmission across Alaska increased for the seventh week in a row.
  • Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to rise. Hospital capacity and staffing have become a significant concern.
  • Positivity rates for arriving travelers getting tested at Alaska airports have nearly doubled over the last two weeks, illustrating an increased risk of travel.
  • Testing is not keeping up with new cases.
  • Alaskans should get tested immediately at the first sign of any symptoms. Testing is our best tool for understanding virus transmission and risk in our communities.
  • Most Alaskans get COVID-19 from a friend, family member or coworker. Alaskans should avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members, avoid crowds, wear masks when around non-household members and stay six feet from anyone not in their household.

Case trends and predictions

  • For the seventh week in a row, more cases (3,930) were reported in Alaskans this week than any previous week, a 28% increase over last week.
  • The statewide positivity rate is at a record high for the seventh week in a row. Increases in testing are not keeping up with increases in cases.
  • Cases are increasing across urban and rural regions and increased in nearly every region this week. All regions of Alaska have high community transmission and are at a high alert level. The largest increase in cases was again in the Anchorage Municipality, which averaged over 300 new cases a day this week, for a 14-day case rate per 100,000 people of 92 up from 72 last week, closely followed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, where the 14-day average case rate increased from 57 to 76.
  • An updated model epidemic curve predicts Alaska’s cases will continue to accelerate over the next week and are expected to double again within the next 39 days or sooner, with a daily growth rate near 2%. This curve reflects data up through November 7 but excludes some of the large increases in the last week as data is sometimes delayed in reporting; the true current daily growth rate may be higher than 2%.

Cases in Schools

In 50 of 54 school districts where updated data were available, 789 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported since August. 350 were in students, 251 in staff and 188 unspecified.

This reflects a disproportionate number of cases occurring in staff compared to students.

There are known incidences of staff-staff transmission at school and through social gatherings outside of school. Staff-student or student-staff transmission at school not occurring between household members has not been clearly identified. There are several incidents of student-student transmission reported.

Transmission of COVID-19 in schools or school activities has been confirmed or is strongly suspected in at least 14 occurrences across various districts. This is likely an underestimate as transmission in schools is difficult to ascertain when case rates are high and many people have had multiple potential exposures.

Staff, students and parents are encouraged to get tested at the first sign of any symptom and report any positive test in a staff member or student to the school so that the school can notify close contacts and make other safety determinations.

Travelers with COVID-19

The proportion of travelers testing positive at airport testing has more than doubled over the last three weeks, from around 1.1% to 2.6%. As airport tests are only free for Alaskan residents, this likely reflects substantially increased risk of travel over the last three weeks, which correlates with increased case rates across most of the United States.

New cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • The week of November 8-14 saw 3,930 new cases in Alaskans, an increase from last week’s total of 28%, for a total of 22,662 cumulative cases in Alaskans.
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 539 with 23 reported as occurring this week; hospitalization reports often lag and only 482 hospitalizations were reported at this time last week, so there are 57 hospitalizations newly reported this week including ones that began during previous weeks.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 14 to 98 total. Three of the reported deaths occurred this week and the other 11 occurred prior to the past week. It is common to take more than a week for a death to be reported, and more deaths of Alaskans with COVID-19 occurring Nov 7-14 may be reported in future.
  • There were 39 nonresident cases identified this week, for a total of 1,152.

Cases by Week Reported and Age Group

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.

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health RegionAverage new cases Sept 20- Oct 3Average new cases Sept 27- Oct 10Average new cases Oct 4- Oct 17Average new cases Oct 18- Oct 24Average new cases Oct 25- Oct 31Average new cases Nov 1- Nov 7Average new cases Nov 8- Nov 14
Anchorage Municipality21.528.932.240.455.872.091.7
Fairbanks North Star Borough21.235.033.329.933.735.242.8
Interior Region except Fairbanks North Star Borough7.911.317.121.625.629.337.2
Juneau City and Borough7.47.814.123.529.531.033.9
Kenai Peninsula Borough3.68.012.025.744.756.976.4
Matanuska-Susitna Region5.99.711.525.847.055.854.0
Northern Southeast Region4.92.82.47.77.312.920.6
Northwest Region30.735.739.136.235.238.843.7
Southern Southeast Region*2.24.33.25.023.731.5
Southwest Region4.76.47.29.216.122.023.5
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region7.122.337.2100.1122.4127.1141.4
Statewide16.321.424.333.345.956.268.0

*Insufficient data; low case rate

Positivity rates

  • The statewide test positivity rate went from 6.9% to 8.8% this week, which is the seventh week in a row that it is the highest it has ever been.
  • Currently, the national average is 9.6%, up from 4.2% in October. Since Alaska’s per-capita testing capacity is more robust than 90% of states, a positivity rate near the national average is concerning. Source: Johns Hopkins
  • Test positivity can tell us if testing is adequate in an area. The goal is a positivity rate <2%. If the rate is over 5%, it means we are likely missing a lot of cases in that area.
  • Test positivity is affected by the number of tests performed as well as the number of new cases in an area.

Health care capacity

  • Hospitalizations hit record highs for the fourth week in a row.
  • Currently, 118 Alaskans with confirmed COVID-19 are hospitalized and 7 are requiring a mechanical ventilator.
  • Hospital staffing can change quickly, particularly if a community has many health workers impacted by COVID-19.

Total Confirmed COVID Beds Occupied

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.
  • Travel for gatherings remains risky and gets more risky as cases rise across the US. The risk is from being in close contact and enclosed spaces with others while traveling as well as gathering with friends and family members indoors who may have COVID-19 and not know it.
  • Alaskans must follow Health Mandate 10.1 when returning from out-of-state travel.

What Alaskans should do

  • Alaskans should avoid gatherings and crowds, 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.
  • 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.

Further information

  • The Frequently Asked Questions webpage is often the quickest route to an answer regarding testing, travel, health mandates and other COVID-19 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.

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

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