In the Mat-Su and on the Kenai Peninsula COVID-19 case rates are doubling every week

Red billowy objexxt with blue rods latching onto them
A scanning electron micrograph of a cell (blue) heavily infected with particles of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Image captured from a patient sample at a federal lab in Maryland. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

The Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula boroughs are seeing the most rapid increase in coronavirus cases in Alaska. 

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said that Anchorage and Fairbanks have the highest number of cases. 

“However, the areas that are in the fastest growth upward right now are the Mat-Su and Kenai, with doubling rates between seven to eight days,” she said during a news conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday. 

Wednesday was the fifth straight day that Alaska health officials announced more than 300 new cases. 

Zink added that Mat-Su residents have had the highest rate of testing positive for the virus, at 15.7% of those tested in recent days. The World Health Organization recommends that governments aim to keep local positivity rates below 5%.

Neither Mat-Su or Kenai boroughs have mask mandates in place.

Zink said the Fairbanks region has succeeded in flattening the COVID-19’s spread. She said the rate of residents testing positive has fallen in half in recent days, from 12 percent to 6 percent. 

“I think it really highlights the fact that this pandemic does not happen to us,” she said. “This virus can only spread when we give it a chance to spread from person to person. It can’t actually replicate without human cells. And so, really, the work that we all do collectively to slow the spread makes a gigantic difference. 

Dunleavy and other state leaders described steps the state is taking to try to reduce the recent surge in cases. More rapid testing machines and tests are expected soon. The state is adding more people to work on contact tracing. 

Dunleavy said he hasn’t been surprised by the increase in cases, since the administration always knew that Alaskans would interact more. But he also said he didn’t want to sound “nonchalant” about the spread. And he said the state would work to ensure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. 

“The next two months could be difficult months, but they don’t have to be, again, if we all work together, ” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy responded to continued calls for him to introduce a statewide mandate to wear masks in public by saying mask mandate decisions should be made locally. 

“We would support that, if that’s what they wish to do,” Dunleavy said. “I believe that that’s best done at the local level and, again, would support the decision by the local communities to do that.”