Officials appeal to Alaskans for help as state reports 526 COVID-19 cases Sunday

A grean lump with yellow dots
A scanning electron micrograph shows a cell (green) heavily infected with particles (yellow) of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Alaska reported a record-shattering 526 positive COVID-19 cases in a single day Sunday, in what the Department of Health and Social Services called “another significant escalation” of the pandemic in the state.

Six of the new cases were found in nonresidents, while the rest were Alaskans. 

While the number broke Saturday’s record 355 cases, DHSS said in a Sunday press release that some of the new cases were due to a backlog in reporting cases because of the recent high numbers. 

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The numbers follow over a month of triple-digit daily case counts. 

While Anchorage continues to account for more cases than any other region, Western Alaska has seen alarmingly high rates. The Kusilvak Census area, which encompasses several villages at the Yukon River Delta in Western Alaska, has the tenth highest case rate of any county in the country over the past two weeks, according to rankings by the New York Times.

A weekly summary from DHSS also warned that the rate of case increases could be much faster than was originally thought. Accounting for data from the last week, the state could have its case numbers double just in every 22 days. 

The high case counts of the last month are putting strain on several areas of the state’s COVID-19 prevention infrastructure. Contact tracing efforts have been stressed to the point where they are delayed in contacting Alaskans who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

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Testing data also indicates that not enough testing is being done in many areas, which means there could be many more positive tests than are reported. And hospital ICU capacity is also showing stress, with just 13 free ICU beds in Anchorage, where most of Alaska’s healthcare capacity is.

In a Sunday press release, DHSS wrote that the state is doing everything it can to respond to the pandemic. Among those efforts is coordinating the use of 50 new rapid testing machines that were distributed to Alaska by the federal government, sending PPE and public health nurses to the Yukon-Kuskokwim hub of Bethel to respond to the surge of cases there, and hiring more staff for contact tracing and data entry.

But state officials are also appealing to Alaskans to take precautions.

“Alaska, we need your help, we are on a fast acceleration,” wrote Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer in a Facebook post in advance of the new numbers. 

Hospitalization numbers in this story have been updated with more recent numbers and includes more information from the Department of Health and Social Services.