COVID week in review: Cases climb; state reports new deaths

18 new hospitalizations and four deaths associated with COVID-19 were reported this week.

With 725 new cases of COVID-19 reported this week for an average of 104 cases per day, Alaska was this week at its highest rate of new cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data available on Alaska’s Coronavirus Response Hub.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services also reported 18 new hospitalizations and four deaths associated with COVID-19 this week, including a Saturday report of the death of an Anchorage man in his 50s who had underlying health conditions.

A total of 31,369 tests were conducted this week for an average of 4,481 tests per day. This represents a slight decrease from the previous week, when a total of 32,056 tests were conducted in a similar timeframe, for an average of 4,579 tests per day.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink explained in a press conference on Tuesday that the State’s Public Health laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks temporarily ran out of the reagents required to process test samples last week, which led to a slowdown in tests being administered and processed.

During that press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy also announced that, starting on Aug. 11, travelers from out of state will no longer have the option of getting a COVID-19 test when they arrive at Alaska airports, and instead will be required to have a negative test result before they leave for Alaska. Currently and until the new deadline, nonresidents have the option of showing proof of a negative test, getting a test at the airport and quarantining until they get their results, or simply quarantining for 14 days upon arrival.

Dunleavy said during the press conference that this decision was made in order to ensure adequate supplies of testing material and personal protective equipment are available for Alaska residents as the rate of new cases statewide continues to increase.

Zink and Alaska’s Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin noted several times this week that the majority of new cases continue to appear in adults in their 20s and 30s, which suggests that younger people are interacting with each other more frequently than older adults and also are generally less compliant with the recommended practices for minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

According to current data, adults in their 20s and 30s represent 43.6% of all cases in Alaska.

McLaughlin said during a conference call with reporters Thursday that he thinks the state’s messaging around promoting hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing should be targeted more to those younger demographics, because while the disease generally affects young people less severely, they can still act as carriers and spread it to their older relatives or those with weakened immune systems.

Alaska continues to experience lower rates of death and hospitalizations than most other states in the country, but the numbers are slowly on the rise.

The four deaths and 18 hospitalizations this week represent the highest numbers reported within a seven-day span since DHSS began tracking the pandemic.

In the month of July, 63 Alaskans were hospitalized after being diagnosed with COVID-19. This is the highest number of hospitalizations in a single month, according to the state’s data.

On the Kenai Peninsula, there were a total of 340 active cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, including residents and nonresidents. Most of the nonresident cases were identified in Seward as part of the outbreak at the OBI Seafoods plant. Those 123 seafood workers are currently in isolation in Anchorage while they recover, according to updates from the City of Seward this week. Among active resident cases, the majority are in Soldotna (52), Seward (44), Kenai (39) and Homer (35).

South Peninsula Hospital in Homer had conducted a total 6,239 tests for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro. Of those, 105 have come back positive, 5,999 have come back negative and 135 are pending results.

Central Peninsula Hospital had conducted a total of 3,264 tests as of Friday, according to Public Information Officer Bruce Richards. Of those, 56 have come back positive, 3,105 have come back negative and 99 are pending results.

Testing on the Kenai Peninsula

On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice.

In Seward, testing is available at Seward Community Health Center, Providence Seward Medical Center, Glacier Family Medicine and Chugachmiut North Star Clinic.

Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.

Testing continues to be available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at South Peninsula Hospital’s main entrance as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.

Testing is also available at the NTC Community Clinic in Ninilchik. The NTC Community Clinic is the Indian Health Service provider for the Ninilchik Tribe.

The clinic is providing testing with a rapid testing machine to those with symptoms, travelers and asymptomatic people. There are currently no restrictions on who can get tested. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.

This analysis is based on data reported by various state and local agencies between Sunday, July 26 and Saturday, Aug. 1.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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