COVID-19 infections in Alaska are on the rise among younger adults

A graph by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows that COVID-19 cases are on the rise among younger Alaskans. The rising green line represents infections among Alaskans in their 20s.

The number of younger Alaskans infected with COVID-19 is on the rise, and it’s driving an increase in case numbers in the state, say public health officials.

“We are seeing many more young adults get COVID-19,” State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said at a news conference Monday.

The trend is apparent in other states too where cases are rapidly rising, and public health officials are pleading with younger people to wear masks and social distance. 

In Alaska, the number of known infections is highest among residents in their 20s, followed by those in their 30s and then 40s, according to state data. 

Dr. McLaughlin said the concentration of cases in younger people likely explains the state’s low number of hospitalizations and deaths as infections increase. That’s the good news, he said.

But the bad news: The more pervasive COVID-19 becomes, the more likely it is to spread to more vulnerable Alaskans, such as those in long-term care facilities who are more likely to become critically ill or die from the virus.

McLaughlin said the state doesn’t know for sure what’s behind the increase in cases among younger Alaskans. 

It could be, he said, that they’re more likely to gather in groups, like at parties or other social venues, and less likely to wear masks or practice social distancing. State and Anchorage health officials have recently implicated bars as the center of some of the spread. 

RELATED: State’s top doctor says bars have been linked to seven outbreaks of COVID-19

Also, McLaughlin said, younger people may be more likely to have jobs that require them to go into work, instead of doing their jobs from home.

“There’s an opportunity for transmission there,” he said. 

RELATED: Number of active COVID-19 infections among Alaskans now tops 900

McLaughlin renewed his calls for Alaskans to wear face masks when they’re around people they don’t live with, to practice social distancing and to wash their hands.

Also, he said, everyone needs to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and get tested even if they don’t feel especially sick.

“Because one of the things we’re seeing with COVID is many, many people just present with very mild symptoms,” he said. “They may have a mild sore throat or just feel a little bit achy. They may have a slight cough, and they may have a fever, but remember that only half of people with COVID actually develop a fever.”

On Tuesday, the state reported another 54 coronavirus cases: 40 of them Alaskans and 14 nonresidents. Of the newly-diagnosed Alaska residents, 70% are age 39 or younger.

RELATED: Alaska’s daily COVID-19 count surpassed 100 for the first time on Sunday

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