Alaska reports 49 new COVID-19 cases and new case at Fairbanks prison

State health officials reported Wednesday that they’ve identified another 49 cases of COVID-19 — 40 residents and nine non-residents. That brings the total number of cases among Alaskans to 1,226 with 646 active infections and 563 people who have recovered.

Of those cases, most of them — 17 — are in Anchorage. But there are also new cases among residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Valdez-Cordova Census Area, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, the Kusilvak Census Area and Aleutians West Census Area.

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Among non-residents, two are in Anchorage, two are in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, one is in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, two in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula region and one in Juneau.

Cumulatively, the state has seen 248 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in Alaska, among them there are 188 active cases and 60 people have recovered.

Data from state hospitals shows that 30 people are currently in the hospital who have COVID-19 or who are suspected to have the disease and are awaiting test results. None of them is on a ventilator.

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The state COVID-19 dashboard showed a large drop in the number of available inpatients beds on Wednesday, from 1800 to 1400.

Patient isolation room in Bartlett Regional Hospital’s critical care unit.(Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

But Jared Kosin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association said that’s not a physical drop in the number of hospital beds available. Rather, it was changed to accurately reflect the beds a COVID-19 patient is likely to end up in if they get sick and need to go to the hospital.

“Before the data had inpatient beds from our behavioral health facilities, it had inpatient beds from some of our specialty facilities. That is now being, essentially filtered out,” Kosin said. “So what you’re seeing on the dashboard is our most operationally practical available bed capacity on a daily basis. Now, you’re truly only seeing the hospital inpatient beds where an admission would occur.”

But, that also doesn’t mean that the state only has 1400 inpatient beds available.

Kosin said, if there’s a rush of COVID-19 patients, some of those other types of hospital beds could be repurposed to accommodate them.

“So, if I have a surge plan where I have an extra 50 beds ready if I need them — if I put those into operation and they’re a part of my daily capacity, then that would feed into those numbers eventually,” he said.

In addition to the cases reported on Wednesday, an inmate at the Fairbanks Correctional Center has tested positive for COVID-19. According to a Department of Corrections media release, that person was in quarantine when the positive test result came back. So, they expect exposure to other inmates and staff to be limited.

The inmate was screened as part of new measures in place at correctional facilities in the state — including testing of all newly remanded inmates that began on July 1. In addition to the testing, new inmates are also quarantined for 14 days before joining the general population of the correctional facilities, according to the release.

To date, the Department of Corrections has administered 1,268 tests with 964 negatives and 300 pending.

Correction: A previous version of this story undercounted the number of non-residents. There were 9 new non-resident cases identified by the end of the day Tuesday. The headline and first paragraph of the story have been updated accordingly.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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