Although COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are falling as more people get vaccinated, Alaska hasn’t yet reached the end of the pandemic, officials with the Alaska State Department of Health and Social Services said Thursday.
Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg said during a press briefing Thursday that although “the intensity of COVID is waning a little bit,” she doesn’t want people to think the pandemic is over.
State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin also said on Thursday that Alaska moved down from the high to intermediate risk level.
“That’s a big milestone,” McLaughlin said during the briefing. “We’re definitely trending down.”
Dr. Jayme Parker with the Alaska State Virology Laboratory said that although positive COVID cases are decreasing overall, her team continues to see more of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, originally detected in the United Kingdom.
“The proportion of specimens that we’re sequencing, we’re seeing more and more B.1.1.7s and less of [other variants],” she said.
According to Parker’s May 2020 situation report on coronavirus variants, the B.1.1.7 is “concerning because it has shown to be significantly more transmissible” (50%) than the original strain of the virus.
Epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale said on Thursday that officials will learn more about the variants as they continue studying their effects in more people.
“I think we’re just kind of riding this wave to figure out when is there a meaningful change for either public health recommendations or vaccination recommendations,” she said.
This data comes just over a week after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15.
DHSS Immunization Program Manager Matthew Bobo said on Thursday that 2,925 newly eligible 12- to 15-year-olds have gotten their first shot.
DHSS is still working to educate Alaskans about the shots and make them easily accessible through the state’s “Sleeves Up For Summer” campaign, which aims to increase vaccination rates by 25% in each census region before June 1.
In an effort to promote COVID-19 vaccination on the peninsula, DHSS officials will be at the kickoff of the Levitt AMP free concert series in Soldotna Creek Park on May 26 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg’s last name.