Fairbanks is now considered Alaska’s coronavirus ‘hot spot’

Fairbanks, Alaska in early February 2017 (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska health officials are now calling the Fairbanks area the “hot spot” for the coronavirus in Alaska. That’s despite more total cases in Anchorage, where there’s also been two deaths, and a higher percentage of cases in Ketchikan relative to that city’s population.

RELATED: Third resident at Fairbanks long-term care facility tests positive for COVID-19

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, explained at a Monday evening press conference that calling Fairbanks a hot spot is about more than just the numbers. It’s based on things like the rate of infection among people who have not recently traveled or been in close contact with someone known to be infected, also known as community transmission, as well as where the disease is spreading in the city, Zink said.

“We’re looking at how many community cases we have, we’re looking at cases in high vulnerable populations, such as long term care facilities, and we’re looking at what sort of spread how many case contacts those people have,” Zink said.

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According to the state, there were 30 confirmed positive tests between Fairbanks and the nearby city of North Pole, as of Monday. That’s after health officials reported a cluster of 15 cases at a Fairbanks medical building that’s home to an orthopedist and a physical therapist, and seven cases at the Denali Center, a facility housing senior and long-term care patients.

By the numbers, the Fairbanks area has seen the highest rate of growth of any region in the state since the global pandemic’s effects first started to be felt in Alaska.

The growth in the Fairbanks area has state and local health officials focusing their efforts, Zink said.

“We’re going to see this nationwide, and we’re going to see this throughout the state, where we have certain areas that kind of are having a certain flare, or a kind of a hot spot, and that we’re trying to put more attention and resources into, to kind of break that chain and to minimize the ongoing transmission,” Zink said.

The state’s epidemiology team is currently working most aggressively on fighting the virus in Fairbanks and spending most of its time on those cases, Zink said.

Foundation Health Partners operates the Denali Center and the only civilian hospital in town, Fairbanks Memorial. Company officials and physicians said in a Monday press conference that two patients tested positive, as well as five staff members, prompting stricter procedures around personal protective equipment and the testing of all 70-plus patients and 135 staff.

Foundation Health officials said they had received about half of the test results as of Monday.

The company said one of the patients who tested positive is in her 80s and doing well. The other is in her 50s, and though her condition worsened and she was transferred to a medical department for treatment, she is also now doing better, according to Foundation Health.

Testing in the Fairbanks area has increased as they’ve gotten more test kits and widened the scope of who they’re testing, the company said.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Casey here

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