‘People have gotten a little bit lax’: Coronavirus cases projected to double in Anchorage every 25 days

A person gets tested for coronavirus.
Coronavirus testing at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on June 22, 2020 (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Coronavirus cases are again on the rise in Alaska, and many of the infections are centered in Anchorage, which recently recorded one of its highest daily case counts yet.

Christy Lawton, manager of the city’s public health division, said there’s not one specific industry or outbreak driving the spread of the virus.

Instead, she thinks it has a lot to do with a broader shift in behavior. More people are gathering indoors, she said, and more people have, what she describes as, “coronavirus fatigue.”

“People have gotten a little bit lax and comfortable with kind of their comings and goings and their behaviors and their circles perhaps got wider,” she said. “We are seeing cases pop up really just in about every type of setting you can think of.”

That includes sporting events, businesses, churches, parties, break rooms, homeless shelters, medical practices and long-term care facilities.

There’s so much community spread at this point, health officials can’t say “if we did this, it would bring everything down,” said Janet Johnston, epidemiologist at the Anchorage Health Department.

“And that’s frustrating,” she said.

It’s not just Anchorage, or just Alaska, where coronavirus cases are climbing. The total number of new infections in the United States is also surging and headed toward a third peak.

A chart shows that coronavirus cases in Anchorage are again o the rise.
The number of new coronavirus cases tied to the Municipality of Anchorage since March. (Screenshot of municipal chart)

Alaska has reported triple-digit daily case counts for three straight weeks, and Anchorage is among the regions in the state seeing the sharpest acceleration in new infections, according to the state health department, which described it as “substantial and concerning.”

And, Johnston said, it’s believed only one out of every 10 coronavirus infections are even being detected in Anchorage, meaning there’s many more cases out there than those reported each day.

Lawton said another growing issue for the city is that some people are not cooperating with contact tracers.

“Some of the people we are contacting that we know are positive have become a little less cooperative in providing information around their close contacts for probably various reasons,” she said. “But it does make the work of the contact tracers incredibly difficult and more challenging than it was several months ago.”

Also, she said, some people just don’t want to get tested.

RELATED: Anchorage School District plans to reopen classrooms for younger students next month

Lawton and Johnston said they hope more Alaskans start taking measures again to help drive down the number of new infections. That includes keeping social circles small, wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone you don’t live with. 

Modeling, as of Friday, showed that if behavior doesn’t change in Anchorage, the number of new coronavirus cases reported daily is projected to double every 25 days. That could put the city at roughly 200 new cases a day.

Johnston said that means more hospitalizations and likely more deaths. 

Modeling also shows Anchorage running out of ICU beds around Jan. 1 if things don’t improve, said Dr. Tom Hennessy, an epidemiologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Johnston and Lawton are also calling on Alaskans to get their flu shots.

“You don’t want to have your immune system compromised in any way right now,” Lawton said.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest modeling on the coronavirus. On Wednesday, models showed the number of infections doubling every 28 days. By Friday, as cases continued to climb, it was every 25 days.

a portrait of a woman outside

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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