‘We’re not interested in documenting this pandemic’: Changes coming to Alaska’s COVID-19 dashboard

Cars in a line with a person in a blue gown talking to someone through the window
Cars waiting in line for a COVID-19 test at the Loussac Library on Oct. 5, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The state Department of Health and Social Services is considering transitioning away from daily COVID-19 case counts and toward reporting weekly trends.

For much of the pandemic, state health officials have reported daily COVID-19 statistics for communities throughout the state. Earlier this month, the department cut reporting down to three times a week. And soon the numbers will only be reported once a week. Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said epidemiologists see more benefit in weekly and monthly reporting.

“There’s more than cases to COVID…although cases are important,” Zink said at a Sitka assembly meeting in mid-December. “We know we don’t catch all of the cases. Our goal is not to catch all of the cases. Our goal is to provide information and resources to every Alaskan to make the best choice that they can for themselves, their family, their community.”

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Zink said COVID-19 data is more useful when looking at larger trends over longer periods of time. And there is some data the Department of Health and Social Services are currently providing that just aren’t relevant, and take a lot of resources to report.

“One of the changes coming up is we will be removing that percent positivity,” Zink said. “It’s a lot of reporting for individual clinics on the back end, to report all of the negatives back into us. We’re not interested in documenting this pandemic. We just want people to be healthy and well and make sure our systems are up and going.”

The state also plans to remove the ‘testing’ section of the COVID dashboard. And in the coming weeks the state will be putting more emphasis on at-home testing. While antigen tests or rapid tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, Zink said there were ways to layer the testing to make it more effective.

“You can overcome a lot of the slight decrease in sensitivity by being able to do a couple tests,” Zink said. “Let’s say you’re symptomatic, taking the same test two days apart can be incredibly helpful. So, I personally love these tests. I think that they really empower individuals to know if they’re positive or not.”

Zink said the state is beginning to hand out rapid tests at airports and working with the federal government to also distribute the tests on planes.

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