As COVID cases and hospitalizations increase in Alaska, health officials urge caution for older adults

a person puts a bandaid on another person
Anchorage School District school nurse Kristin Studley (right) administers the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination to Rae Hancock (left). Hancock was one of 771 people who received vaccines at the ASD Education Center on Jan. 7, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state. Health officials are encouraging Alaskans to renew their efforts to protect adults over 70.

The state department of health reported 1,911 cases on Wednesday. That’s a 14% increase from the previous week, and a 34% increase from this time last month. Those numbers do not include positive at-home tests.

According to the department’s COVID dashboard, areas with the highest community case rates include Ketchikan, Denali, Bethel, Juneau, Yakutat, Haines and Skagway.

There are currently 46 people hospitalized with COVID in the state. In a public health presentation on Wednesday, chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said most of them are over 70 years old.

“Even if they’re vaccinated or boosted, we know that age is the biggest risk factor for COVID and severe COVID illness,” she said.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 1,911 cases between May 18 and 24. Those numbers do not include positive at-home tests. (Screenshot from DHSS’s COVID-19 Dashboard.)

Zink said Alaskans over 70 and those living with older relatives should consider doing more to protect themselves against COVID. That could include masking in indoor public spaces, minimizing indoor gatherings and opening windows to allow for more airflow.  

On June 15, the FDA will review Moderna and Pfizer’s authorization requests for their vaccines for kids under five. Zink said kids are generally still at much lower risk of severe symptoms than older people.

“While this is super exciting news, I don’t want it to take away from grandma or grandpa getting that booster,” she said.

The latest rise in cases in the U.S. is driven by the newest omicron variant, Zink said. Like other omicron waves, it appears to be making its way to Alaska more slowly than the northeast.

Third sets of free at-home COVID tests are now available at covidtests.gov. Zink emphasized that people with COVID symptoms should get PCR tests, even if their at-home tests are negative. If you’ve been in close contact with an infected person and don’t have symptoms, test five or more days after exposure.

The department’s next public health presentation is scheduled for September.

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