When it comes to COVID-19, Alaska just had its worst week yet

COVID-19 cases among Alaskans since March. The yellow bar represents the number of cases not yet recovered. The blue is recovered cases and the red are deaths. (Screenshot of chart created by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)

Alaska just had its worst week of the coronavirus pandemic yet, according to the state health department.

That’s because of the rapid increase in new infections among Alaskans and nonresidents. 

The department issued the sobering message on Wednesday in its weekly summary of Alaska’s COVID-19 cases.

RELATED: Dunleavy says COVID-19 mandates should be up to local governments

It said if more people don’t social distance and wear face masks, COVID-19 infections will continue to rise rapidly. State health officials predict the number of infections will double every 23 days if people don’t take more preventative measures.

“Alaskans should avoid large and indoor gatherings, wear face coverings in public, keep six feet of distance from non-household members and practice good hand hygiene to slow transmission of COVID-19,” the summary said.

The summary is based on data from July 19 to July 25. Here are some of its other main findings: 

• The total number of COVID-19 cases among Alaskans rose by 34% last week with a majority of the new infections in Anchorage and a majority among residents in their 20s. 

• The number of new cases in Alaskans in their 20s and 30s continues to rise sharply. Many cases are linked to bars and social gatherings. 

• About 80% of the 171 nonresident cases last week were seafood workers tied to one of three major outbreaks: seafood processing plants in Juneau and Seward and a huge factory fishing vessel that had docked in Dutch Harbor.

RELATED: Seafood companies kept COVID-19 from infecting Alaskans. Now they’re trying to keep the virus out of their plants.

• The Interior region (not including the Fairbanks area) had the highest new case rate in Alaska last week, averaging 29 new cases per 100,000 people. The Municipality of Anchorage’s case rate was 14 per 100,000.

• The race and ethnicity of many of those diagnosed are not known, but based on the data the department does have it says American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations appear to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

• The rise in cases has not yet led to a sharp increase in hospitalizations, and the state says hospital capacity is still “adequate.” But, other states have reported that it can be several weeks before those infected become sick enough for the hospital.

• About 25 of every 1,000 COVID-19 tests came back positive last week, an increase from about 17 in 1,000 the week before. 

By Wednesday, the state reported just over 2,400 active COVID-19 infections between residents and non-Alaskans in the state. Roughly half of them are tied to the Municipality of Anchorage. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday that he’s letting local governments decide whether to impose more COVID-19 mandates as cases rise.

RELATED: When it comes to COVID-19 mandates, Dunleavy says it should be up to local governments

In Anchorage, the local assembly has recently extended the municipality’s emergency proclamation until mid-October and the mayor has reinstated limitations on bars, restaurants and gatherings. The Anchorage School District has also announced it will start the school year in August with online-only classes because of the growing number of infections.

Tegan Hanlon is the digital managing editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447. Read more about Tegan here.

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