The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported a new COVID-19 death in Alaska on Thursday: a Fairbanks man in his 20s. This brings the total statewide fatalities to 343.
Alaska State Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said in a press briefing on Thursday that she has been seeing more cases among younger demographics.
“Unfortunately we continue to see young, healthy people getting quite ill,” she said. “Some require hospitalization and unfortunately, a few [are] dying.”
Additionally, the state announced 92 new COVID-19 cases and two new hospitalizations, bringing the statewide totals to 68,762 and 1,508. As of Thursday, there were 54 total COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, with seven of the patients on ventilators.
“As previously mentioned, 98% of our hospitalizations are in unvaccinated individuals, and so we really want to encourage … to vaccinate as soon as possible,” Zink said in Thursday’s briefing. “When the system becomes overwhelmed, like they’re becoming in Fairbanks, then heart attacks and strokes and motor vehicle accidents and other things become impacted as well.”
The new case count includes four on the Kenai Peninsula. Soldotna reported two and both Kenai and Nikiski reported one.
The DHSS also saw 30 new cases in Anchorage, 13 in both Fairbanks and Wasilla, nine in Ketchikan, seven in North Pole, two each in Craig, Delta Junction, Eagle River, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Juneau and Petersburg, and one each in Big Lake, Chugiak, Houston and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
Alaska remains at high-alert level, with 17.27 cases per 100,000 people.
Almost half of Alaska residents 16 and up — 47.9% — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data updated on Thursday. 54.5% have received at least one dose.
This comes during the launch of Alaska’s “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign, which sets a goal of a 25% vaccination rate increase for each census area by June 1.
“We’d like to build as much energy and excitement around this as we possibly can,” Zink said during Thursday’s press briefing.
She said she’s hoping that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration soon for use in 12- to 15-year-olds, so that more of the population will be eligible for vaccination.
Bryan Fisher, the director at the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said he’s received multiple requests “from around the globe,” including East Asia, Europe and Canada, asking about the state’s new summer travel vaccination program.
Starting on June 1, travelers will have the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan.
“We’re looking for folks to come visit our beautiful and safe state,” Fisher said. “I think things are looking up.”
Although the rate of vaccination has been increasing at a slower pace, Zink said during the press briefing that she wouldn’t consider it a plateau.
“Every day those numbers keep going up,” she said. “There’s a lot of people — who it’s about accessibility, it’s about additional questions, and we continue to meet Alaskans where they’re at.”
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 41.3% of Alaskans 16 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 45.8% have received at least one dose. Over half of peninsula seniors — 67.6% — are fully vaccinated. Across all age groups, 32.7% of peninsula residents are fully vaccinated.
The borough also moved down to the intermediate risk tier, categorized by having an average of between 4.8 to 10 positive COVID cases per 100,000 people. As of Thursday, the Kenai Peninsula had 9.57 positive cases per 100,000.
The borough remains No. 9 out of 11 regions in vaccine rollout. The Juneau Region leads the state at a 70.2% vaccination rate for those 16 and older.
Researchers estimate anywhere from 70% to 85% of the population will need to be immune to COVID-19 through vaccination in order to stop the spread of the virus.
State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said during Thursday’s press briefing that the likelihood of reaching something similar to “herd immunity” will likely depend on the spread of the COVID variants. The B.1.1.7 strain, first detected in the United Kingdom, is the dominant variant in the U.S.
“The good news about that, though, is that all three of the EUA authorized vaccines that are available in the U.S. have really good vaccine efficacy against that strain,” he said. “A lot of it will depend on which variants are coming in and how widely they’re spread.”
McLaughlin said that if officials see an uptick in vaccination rates in the coming months, it may be possible to achieve herd immunity.
The DHSS reported that there were 62 total cases of the U.K. variant in Alaska as of May 4, along with 11 of the P.1 from Brazil and three of the B.1.351 from South Africa.
Around 200 COVID-19 vaccination appointments were available across multiple central peninsula clinics as of Monday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.
These include Kenai Public Health, and the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy at Soldotna Prep School, CES Kasilof and the Sterling Community Center.
A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.
People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.
The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination.
COVID-19 testing locations 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, Dena’ina Health Clinic, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital 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.
In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic. Reach reporter Camille Botello at email@example.com.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.