State reports another death as active COVID-19 infections again reach new high

Samples for COVID-19 testing are collected using a cotton swab like the one pictured here from the lab at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation hospital in Bethel, Alaska. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

Another Alaskan with COVID-19 has died and four more residents with the infection have become sick enough to be hospitalized, state health officials reported Tuesday.

Officials say the most recent death was a woman in her 70s from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with underlying health issues. She died in Alaska. That brings the total number of Alaskans who have died with the infectious disease to 17, according to state data.

The report of another death follows a recent spike in Alaska’s number of new COVID-19 infections, and warnings from Anchorage city officials that its system for investigating cases has maxed out. The state health department is also continuing to call on Alaskans to wear masks, wash their hands and social distance.

“Alaska is seeing a surge in cases with the number of infected Alaskans now outpacing recovered ones, plus a new high in COVID-positive hospitalizations yesterday,” the department posted on Facebook Tuesday morning. 

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The number of active cases among Alaskans has now topped 600 — a new high for the state.

That includes 19 new COVID-19 cases among residents. Eleven of them are from Anchorage, two are from Wasilla and there is one each from Eagle River, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Kenai, Cordova, the Yukon-Koyukuk area and Ketchikan. 

The state on Tuesday also reported four new infections among nonresidents. Two tested positive in Anchorage and another case’s location was listed as “unknown” in the state’s database. The state did not list the purpose of their visits. The fourth case is a tourist in Seward.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at a news conference Tuesday that the increase in cases is not surprising or alarming, and “right now there is no reason to hit the panic button.” The state ended its coronavirus-related restrictions for businesses in late May, and revised its restrictions for travelers in early June.

“We knew that this virus was highly contagious so we will see an uptick in cases,” Dunleavy said, “like states across the country. But we still have some of the best numbers in the country and we want to keep it that way.”

In the U.S., the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases is again on the rise. Even though the number of infections in Alaska is increasing, the state continues to have one of the country’s lowest case counts per capita

By the end of the day Monday, there were 25 people in the hospital in Alaska with COVID-19 or who were suspected to have the disease, according to the state. One was on a ventilator. More than 900 hospital beds and 322 ventilators were available.

Since March, the state has tallied 1,184 known coronavirus infections among Alaskans, and 560 of them have recovered so far.

The disease has infected many younger Alaskans — with about 20% of the total cases in residents in their 20s and another 20% among those in their 30s.

The total number of infections among nonresidents in the state is now 241, with 182 considered active and the rest recovered, according to the state.

Of the 17 deaths among Alaskans, four died out of state. The Juneau Empire reports one of the out-of-state deaths may have been misattributed to Alaska because of incorrect information on a death certificate.

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A total of 131,420 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Alaska — up about 3,000 from Monday’s report.

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