‘Plateau-ish’: Case counts are high, but has omicron peaked in Alaska?

A woman smiles with mountains in the background
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The latest COVID-19 case numbers suggest that the omicron wave may have reached its peak in Alaska, though chief state medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said it’s too soon to say for sure.

“Here in Alaska you can start to see that we’re starting to maybe plateau-ish,” she said in a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “We’ll have to kind of see what this next week, week and a half looks like moving forward. But nice to not see quite the same upward trajectory.”

Still, Alaska has the highest COVID-19 case rate of any state in the country again. The number of new daily cases is several times higher now than at the peak of the delta variant.

“Case rates declining does not mean that case rates are low,” said Anchorage economics consultant Jonathan King, who puts the numbers in perspective for a weekly COVID newsletter he produces.

He noted that the state recorded 55,000 cases in January.

“It’s just a staggering number for one month, for a 30-day period,” he said. “What it means is, officially, one in every 13 Alaskans … tested positive for COVID in January.”

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Even without data from home COVID tests, or an estimate of how many people became infected and never get tested, it’s obvious the omicron wave towers over delta and previous variants, said King.

“Twenty-six percent of all COVID cases, for the entire pandemic, occurred in Alaska in January,” he said.

Though the illness from omicron is generally more mild, it’s still putting strain on Alaska hospitals, especially because many health care workers are out sick or in quarantine. But state officials say, compared to the delta wave, COVID patients now are less likely to need intensive care and their hospital stays are shorter.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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