Alaska’s active COVID-19 case count hits new high as 25 more people test positive

The number of recovered and active COVID-19 cases among Alaskans, as well as the number of deaths. (Screenshot of a COVID-19 chart the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)

Another 20 Alaskans and five nonresidents have tested positive for COVID-19, the state health department reported Wednesday.

There’s now a total of 246 Alaskans who have been diagnosed with the disease and haven’t recovered yet — the highest number since the pandemic began. The data is based on numbers through the end of the day Tuesday.

The latest case count for Alaska follows a series of double-digit, daily increases in positive tests since late last month. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said the state expected cases to increase as Alaska reopens. He said the state is tracking an array of data including hospital capacity. 

Some healthcare workers, however, have raised concerns that some Alaskans have developed “coronavirus fatigue” and are not social distancing or taking other precautions. And they worry that if behavior doesn’t change, the disease’s spread will only get worse.

The 20 newly-diagnosed Alaskans are from communities across the state, according to the health department’s data. Six are from the Fairbanks area, two are from Anchorage and two are from Palmer. There is also one Alaskan each from Homer, Soldotna, Chugiak, Eagle River, Wrangell, the North Slope Borough, Sitka, Kodiak, Juneau and Ketchikan. 

The Fairbanks cases are the first COVID-19 cases reported for Fort Wainwright, said the state health department. A family tested positive who live on base, according to military leaders.

Ketchikan emergency officials on Wednesday also alerted the public about potential “wide community spread” after a person reportedly broke quarantine after their arrival to town.

Related: Ketchikan officials warn of potential ‘wide community spread’ of COVID-19 after traveler broke quarantine

More Pogo mine workers test positive

The new nonresident cases include one seafood worker in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and one person in the Nome Census area, who the state lists as visiting Alaska for “other” purposes. The other three work at the Pogo gold mine, about 40 miles northeast of Delta Junction, confirmed owner Northern Star Resources in a statement Wednesday.

The company said two employees tested positive three days after beginning their shift at the mine. Seven close contacts were identified and transported offsite. Two of them also tested positive for the virus.

Of the four employees infected, three are from out of sate, according to the company’s statement. But the infection isn’t related to travel, it said.

“To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, Northern Star has provided non-residents incentives to remain in the state during their rostered leave,” the statement said. “Affected employees have not left the state in more than 12 weeks.”

The employees are isolating offsite and have mild symptoms. In April, another positive case at Pogo was announced.

Fourth round of testing begins at Providence

Meanwhile, Providence Health & Services Alaska will complete a fourth round of testing at its East Anchorage campus, the site of the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.

Providence spokesman Mikal Canfield said testing would begin Wednesday or Thursday.

By Wednesday afternoon, a total of 19 residents and 27 caregivers at the Providence Transitional Care Center had tested positive for the virus. Four residents were hospitalized. Two have died.

Also, one caregiver is infected at the facility the center shares a campus with, Providence Extended Care.

Statewide, the number of positive COVID-19 tests has reached 82 among nonresidents and 696 among Alaskans, about two-thirds of whom are considered recovered.

The state also reported one new hospitalization tied to COVID-19. Since March, 55 Alaskans have been hospitalized with the disease, with 12 deaths. No new deaths were reported from Tuesday.

The state says 77,709 tests have now been administered in Alaska —  up about 1,500 from the day before. The average percentage of positive tests for the previous three days is 0.48%, according to the state’s data. 

A total of 29 of the state’s 350 ventilators are in use, along with 1,000 of its 1,800 inpatient hospital beds.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.