Alaska’s case rate remains high, but data shows declining COVID numbers

a row of cars lined up behind a sign that reads "covid-19 drive-thru testing"
Cars line up for drive-through Covid-19 testing on the Alaska Native Medical Campus on Aug. 24, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

State health officials are hopeful that the worst of Alaska’s fall COVID-19 surge has passed.

Daily cases, hospitalizations and the percent of positive tests have all been declining for the last several weeks, according to data from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Weekly case totals have also gone down in each of the last four weeks. 

The declines follow a stubborn plateau of high numbers that lasted from the end of September through mid-October, which strained hospitals and medical workers. 

While Alaska’s case rate remains the highest in the country at about four times the national average, according to data compiled by The New York Times, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the new downward trend is “relieving.”

“We still have a lot of cases, we’re still in that high zone, there’s a lot of chances people can still get infected, but it’s a much better trend,” she said. 

State data shows hospitalizations are down about 30% from their highs last month. As of Thursday afternoon, 157 people in Alaska were in the hospital with COVID-19, according to Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

“We definitely are feeling consistent softening volumes,” said Kosin. 

RELATED: Anchorage kids ages 5-11 get first shots of COVID vaccine at school district clinic

Kosin said the statewide declines in COVID-19 patients are driven by steep drops of people with the virus in Anchorage’s three main hospitals. Hospitals on the Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su Borough have also started to see some declines, Kosin said. But he pointed out that levels are still above the highs set during last winter’s surge. 

“We’ve been operating at such an extreme level that now that we’re close to our prior peak we’re able to kind of let out a sigh of relief for the moment,” he said. 

Weekly cases have dropped by about a third over the last month, though hundreds of positive cases are still being reported each day. 

COVID-19 continues to infect unvaccinated Alaskans at a much higher rate than vaccinated Alaskans. A report from the Department of Health and Social Services shows that unvaccinated residents are 11 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID than those who’ve gotten a vaccine.

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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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