Alaska reports single-day coronavirus high as Anchorage struggles with contact tracing

Ethan Berkowitz at a press conference on July 10, 2020. (Photo from the Mayor’s Facebook page)

Another 51 Alaska residents and four nonresidents have tested positive for the coronavirus, the state health department reported on Friday.

That’s the largest single-day increase for resident cases reported so far during the pandemic. The numbers represent positive cases throughout the day on Thursday.

Of the resident cases, 21 are from Anchorage, 14 are from Fairbanks, two are from Homer, three from Kenai, two from North Pole, two from Wasilla and one case each in Eagle River, Juneau, Nome, the Nome census area, Palmer, Seward and Willow.

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There are 30 Alaskans in the hospital who either have COVID-19 or are suspected to have the disease. None are on ventilators.

Of the nonresident cases, three are in the Bristol Bay or Lake and Peninsula boroughs. Two of them work in the seafood industry and the other’s visit purpose is not listed in the state’s database. Also, a tourist in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough tested positive.

In the last week, Anchorage has seen a “significant uptick” in the number of new positive cases, said Christy Lawton, Public Health Division Manager. Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Lawton said there were 153 new cases this week, up from 68 new cases last week. She added that hospitalizations more than doubled this week. Twenty-one people — six under investigation and 15 confirmed to have COVID-19 — are currently hospitalized in Anchorage.

“Overall, the ability of the healthcare system is still sufficiently resourced to meet the demands, but that certainly could easily change in the coming weeks,” Lawton said.

Testing resources in Anchorage are also adequate right now, but Lawton warned they could become strained if demand increases.

The continued high number of cases comes as the Anchorage Health Department reports that area contact tracers are overwhelmed. The department is one to two days behind on contacting people who may have been exposed, according to Lawton.

She said the department is currently monitoring more than 700 contacts who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Lawton said the health department is hoping to bring on new contact tracers trained by the University of Alaska Anchorage in the next few weeks.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect revised numbers from the state Department of Health and Social Services. There are four new COVID-19 cases among nonresidents.