Alaska reports a record 13 deaths as surge in coronavirus cases continues

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 state health department on Tuesday reported 13 deaths tied to the coronavirus and 583 new infections.

It’s the largest number of deaths reported in a single day by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services since the pandemic began. It comes as the number of infections in Alaska continues to swell, threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

The health department says five of the 13 deaths are recent, and the rest are being reported following the review of death certificates. Most of the deaths involved Alaskans in their 60s or older. One was a man in his 30s. Several were residents from Western Alaska.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region continues to be hard hit by the pandemic, and continues to have the highest rate of infections in the state.

Over the past two days, the regional health corporation reported 85 new cases among just residents of the small village of Akiak.

It’s not just Alaska where infections are surging. Across most of the country, coronavirus cases are spiking, leading to warnings about a shrinking number of hospital beds and, in some places, more restrictions.

Every region of Alaska continues to be in a high-alert level, meaning there’s widespread community transmission and many undetected cases, according to the state health department.

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The number of hospitalizations tied to the virus in Alaska also continues to rise.

By Tuesday, a total of 131 people with the coronavirus were hospitalized, and another 13 were waiting on test results. Twenty-one of them were on ventilators, according to the health department.

The total number of Alaskans who have died from the virus is now 115.

The 583 new infections announced Tuesday stretch from Utqiaġvik to the Aleutians to the Princes of Wales-Hyder area, but most of them, about 65%, are tied to the Municipality of Anchorage.

State health officials have also cautioned that their daily updates of infection numbers only provide a slice of the picture of the spread of infection in Alaska. The true number of infections is much higher than the case count publicly reported each day, they say, because staff can no longer keep up with data entry and validating each case.

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