Alaska reports more than 1,700 cases and dozens of deaths from backlog

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The state of Alaska reported a new single-day record Friday of 1,735 COVID-19 cases among residents, along with 44 deaths over the past year that were newly linked to the coronavirus.

The deaths and record number of cases are the latest grim indicators of COVID’s toll in Alaska, including from the recent Delta variant-driven surge, which has pushed the state’s daily case rate to the nation’s highest.

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The new numbers are also likely to increase pressure on Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Anchorage’s conservative mayor, Dave Bronson, who have both resisted calls to institute measures like mask mandates and business restrictions to help control the spread of the virus.

State data show that about half of the newly reported deaths came before Aug. 1, when the current surge began intensifying. The other half came since then.

Alaska health officials, at a media briefing Friday to announce the numbers, said that a cyberattack against the state health department caused some of the delayed death reporting. But they added that others stem from a standard, rigorous review of death records — and warned that more batches of COVID-related deaths are likely to emerge in the future.

The officials also partially blamed the high daily case count on a reporting backlog. They said many of the new cases reported Friday were actually submitted to the department days ago, and are only now being recorded.

“Daily reporting numbers are very high, because it is a mix of current and older cases,” Health Commissioner Adam Crum said.

The daily reporting backlog, officials added, should become less of a problem in the future because of streamlined reporting processes. But they also acknowledged that persistently high case counts reflect the fact that the coronavirus is raging in the state.

“It’s really best to look at the weekly trends,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. But, she added, this month’s case counts show that “this is the highest incidence of cases we’ve ever experienced, straining our public health infrastructure, our businesses and our economy.”

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Before Friday, the previous record case count for residents was 1,285, set just one day earlier.

Earlier this week, Dunleavy’s administration announced that it had instituted crisis standards of care at the state’s hospitals — a reflection of the fact that some of them no longer have the staff or equipment to maintain modern levels of treatment.

Public health officials say they don’t yet see indications that this latest wave of the coronavirus has peaked, meaning that relief for the state’s hospitals could still be weeks away. Hospitalizations from the virus, statewide, rose by eight Friday, to 217

The state’s data dashboard showed Anchorage hospitals with eight free intensive care unit beds Friday, out of 69, and just 21 free beds out of 486 total. The Mat-Su hospital’s ICU was full, with 14 patients occupying 14 beds.

The story has been updated to include three nonresident deaths in the overall count.

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