COVID-19 case counts continue to rise across the state
July 22, 2021
As visitor travel to Alaska picks up strength, as residents participate in summer events, and as the pace of vaccinations slows down, the state’s COVID-19 case count is rising, prompting a return to high-alert status and warnings by health officials.
The statewide case count has been climbing since mid-June, with Alaska health officials attributing the rise in part to the highly contagious delta variant first identified in Alaska in May.
Sitka went on high alert last week, as did Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula went to high alert on Monday after counting 53 new cases over the weekend.
Part of the problem is the peninsula’s low vaccination rate — 47% of eligible residents with at least one shot — and “part is due to the influx of people that we have coming in,” Kenai Public Health Nurse Tami Marsters told radio station KDLL on Monday.
Sitka officials reported 156 active COVID-19 cases in the community as of Sunday evening, including 43 new cases and five hospitalizations over the weekend. Nearly half of the weekend patients were in their 20s and 30s, Sitka reported on its COVID-19 website.
Officials said the surge is driven by residents who refuse vaccination, “even in the face of the more dangerous delta variant of the virus that is spreading across Alaska.”
The City and Borough of Sitka on July 14 reinstated a masking requirement in municipal buildings, if six feet of social distance cannot be maintained. “Mask up, whether you are vaccinated or not,” said Craig Warren, the emergency operations center incident commander.
Anchorage reported more than 300 new cases last week, 220 more over the weekend, and almost 700 in the past two weeks.
Cordova had more than 40 active cases at its peak last week in the community of 2,400 people, with an additional 14 over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Juneau ordered face masks in all city and borough buildings and facilities, effective immediately, due to the jump in COVID-19 cases.
Juneau officials also have urged unvaccinated travelers arriving from Alaska communities that are seeing a rise in cases to get tested when they return to town, including travelers from Sitka, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
Two Juneau residents who traveled to Sitka within the past week tested positive for the virus.
Wrangell reported two cases last week — the first since the Fourth of July. Both were residents who had been in contact with visitors from out of town.
Haines vaccination rate is 67% of eligible residents. The statewide rate is almost 57%. Skagway leads Southeast at 81%, as of Tuesday.
As of Monday, state health officials reported 69 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 hospitalized in Alaska — more than twice the daily average for most of June.
Alaska’s vaccination rate has not moved much in recent weeks, as fewer people are getting their shots. As of Monday, 56% of eligible Alaskans had received at least their first vaccine dose, and 51% were fully vaccinated. While Alaska was among the early vaccination leaders nationwide, the state has now slipped to 29th place as of Monday, according to federal statistics.
And though vaccinations do not guarantee a person will not get COVID-19, the shots are highly effective at preventing infections and, if infected, reducing the severity of the illness, state officials said.
A recent report prepared for the state said only 4.2% of Alaska’s COVID-19 cases between February and June were among people who were fully vaccinated, while just 1% of Alaska’s COVID-19 hospitalizations during that time involved fully vaccinated individuals.
As public health officials continue to emphasize the need for people to get vaccinated — to protect themselves and anyone around them — more employers are requiring vaccinations of their employees.
Southeast Alaska’s largest tribal organization last week joined the growing list of employers. Leadership at the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska met last Friday and decided to require vaccinations, according to Juneau public radio station KTOO.
The Central Council joins SEARHC and other employers that have adopted similar vaccination policies in recent weeks.
The Tlingit & Haida executive council will also require delegates who attend the September tribal assembly in-person meeting to be vaccinated.