Alaska inmate dies with COVID-19; cases still on the rise ahead of the holidays

A public health worker in a tent outside Juneau International Airport bags a freshly collected nasal swab for COVID-19 testing.
A public health worker in a tent outside Juneau International Airport bags a freshly collected nasal swab for COVID-19 testing on Sept. 1, 2020. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The number Alaskans diagnosed with the coronavirus grew by almost 1,200 over the weekend and the state reported its first inmate death linked to the virus, as the surge of infection in the state continues.

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported on Saturday that 670 residents had tested positive for the virus and, on Sunday, it reported another 517 cases among Alaskans.

Officials say those numbers underestimate true case counts by up to 50% because there is not enough staff to enter the high numbers of new infections into the state database.

RELATED: Alaska’s high COVID-19 case counts are even higher than the state’s data show

Also on Sunday, the state reported that another person has died from the coronavirus.

The 69-year-old man was serving a sentence at Goose Creek Correctional Center in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, said the Department of Corrections. He had underlying health issues and died Sunday from complications related to the coronavirus, according to the department. He was taken to the hospital on Friday.

The prison is in the midst of a major coronavirus outbreak. A total of 204 inmates had tested positive for the virus as of last week.

Meanwhile, health officials are also bracing for the potential of increased spread of the virus over the Thanksgiving holiday, and they’re pleading with Alaskans to wear face masks and social distance.

“I am just imploring the community to make decisions — hard decisions,” Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris said during a news conference Friday.

Officials warn that with current rates of transmission and hospitalizations, Alaska’s hospital capacity could fill up in just over a month.

RELATED: Across Alaska, as the pandemic sends more staff home, hospitals prepare for the worst

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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