COVID-19 spreading quickly in Alaska, with 46 new cases reported over the weekend

The metric being tracked here (Rt) represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus calculated for each locale. It estimates how many secondary infections are likely to occur from a single infection in a specific area. Values over 1.0 mean we should expect more cases in that area; values under 1.0 mean we should expect fewer. Case count data from the COVID Tracking Project. (Graphic courtesy Rtlive.com)

Alaska saw its highest jump in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a single day on Friday. 

State health officials reported Saturday that 29 Alaskans and five non-residents tested positive on Friday. On Sunday, the state reported an additional 12 cases, nine among residents and 3 among non-residents, bringing the total number of cases reported over the weekend to 46.

The total number of cases among Alaskans had reached 661 as of Monday morning. There have been 75 cases among non-residents. Out of the Alaska cases, 411 have recovered. There are 238 active cases and 12 deaths.

And, according to modeling the state is using, the rate that Alaskans are transmitting the virus hit the second-highest in the nation on Saturday. Only Arizona had a faster transmission rate. 

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Still, the state has among the fewest number of cases per capita in the country.

The number of cases has been steadily rising since the state relaxed its mandates restricting movement and commerce. State officials have consistently said they expected the number of cases to grow, but believe Alaska has the health care capacity to handle it. 

State modeling showed Saturday that the rate of transmission of the virus had jumped up to 1.1 — that means that each Alaskan who gets sick with the virus is likely to give it to more than one other person. At that level, the virus is expected to spread quickly. 

The Alaskans who were reported to have tested positive on Friday and Saturday are spread out all over the state. The spike in cases in recent weeks has been driven largely by clusters of cases in certain communities. 

Thirteen of the new cases reported over the weekend are from Anchorage, including two non-resident cases, and one from Eagle River. Health officials in Anchorage have been trying to contain the state’s largest outbreak at the Providence Transitional Care Center. More than 40 of the center’s patients and caregivers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. Two patients have died.

Related: Health officials worry Alaskans have ‘coronavirus fatigue’ as active cases reach new high

Six of the new cases are from the Kenai Peninsula. The virus has spread quickly there in recent weeks. There are now 73 active cases as of Friday. State health authorities said earlier this week they were monitoring hundreds of people on the Kenai, including those who have tested positive for the virus and their close contacts. One cluster of cases in the area was linked to the Tustumena state ferry. 

Eight of the new cases are people from Fairbanks and North Pole, including one non-resident. Two people in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough also tested positive on Friday. One in Palmer tested positive on Saturday.

And the virus continues to spread into remote communities. 

Another case from rural Alaska has been confirmed in the Nome census area. The Norton Sound Health Corporation announced Saturday that the resident is from a village in the region. The health corporation is sending out a response team to test others in the community. It is the region’s fifth case.

In Southeast Alaska, there are three new cases from Ketchikan, two of which were classified as non-residents, two from Craig, two from Sitka and three from Wrangell, including one non-resident. 

There’s also a new case in the Bethel area and an additional non-resident case in the Bristol Bay region.

Alaska is among more than a dozen states that, since the start of June, have recorded their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus cases, according to the Washington Post. 

This story has been updated to include additional cases reported on Sunday. Alaska Public Media’s Julia O’Malley contributed to this report.

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Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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