Novel coronavirus

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab.

Credit: NIAID-RML

Updated 7:04 p.m.: A Fairbanks woman in her 80s has died from complications related to COVID-19, marking the 19th Alaska death linked to the disease, according to reports from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

As the state's case numbers jumped by more than a quarter in the last week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Wednesday he will require all state employees, contractors and visitors in state buildings to wear a face mask when unable to keep 6 feet of distance from others.

The Fairbanks resident who died was reported to have pre-existing health conditions, according to health department spokesman Clinton Bennett. No additional information on the death has been made available by state health officials at this time. The new death brings the total number of Fairbanks North Star Borough residents to have died from complications related to the disease to three.

Ten Fairbanks borough residents are also included in Wednesday's daily case count of 92 state residents who have been confirmed to have tested positive for the disease –– nine from Fairbanks and one from North Pole.

Health officials have identified Fairbanks as an area of "very high rates of test positivity, reflecting widespread community transmission."

As more Fairbanksans become sick, all but one of the Interior's 13 Intensive Care Unit hospital beds were categorized as "in use" as of Wednesday.

Four more Alaskans have become sick enough to be hospitalized for the disease, bringing the cumulative total number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 to 109.

Also as of Wednesday evening, about half of the state's ICU beds are in use and just under half of the state's inpatient hospital beds are also in use. This includes both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, and state health officials maintain that statewide hospital capacity remains "adequate."

According to state health department data, 34 Alaskans are currently hospitalized either with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who are under investigation and await test results. Three Alaskans have been admitted to an intensive care unit, and one is on a ventilator.

The other 82 resident cases reported Wednesday were confirmed among 39 residents of Anchorage, 11 from the Valdez-Cordova Census Area, seven from Juneau, six from Wasilla, three each from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Census Area and Ketchikan, two each from Eagle River, Kenai, Palmer and Sitka and one each from Chugiak, Seward and Utqiaġvik. Tally also included two cases from residents in unknown locations. The listing of the communities not necessarily mean that is where a person contracted the disease or tested positive for it.

This brings the state cumulative total number of cases to 2,132, nearly 64% of which are deemed active.

Statewide, community spread has been linked to numerous activities, the report states.

"Alaskans are acquiring the virus from many types of social gatherings: backyard barbecues, funerals, weddings, children's sporting events, camps, churches and any time groups gather with others outside their household," the report read.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the state is seeing an uptick in cases in individuals ages 20 to 30, reflecting similar trends in the Lower 48 with younger individuals reflecting higher rates of transmission.

Only two new nonresidents have tested positive for COVID-19, a sharp drop from the previous day's 19.

One tested positive in the municipality of Anchorage and one in an unknown location. The reason for both to be in Alaska remains unknown.

This brings the total number of nonresident cases to 487. A local seafood processor in the Kenai Peninsula city of Seward has shut down after 34 workers tested positive. It remains unclear how many of these workers were state residents and how many were nonresidents as well as when the cases will be included in the state's tally.

More than half of the nonresident cases reported by the state have been seafood industry workers.

Health officials identified that Alaska's case numbers increased by more than a quarter in the last week alone.

As of Monday a total of 185,333 tests have been performed to date. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the previous three days is 3.01%.

With the recent surge in cases across the state, even with tightened social circles, regular uses of masks and face coverings and physical distancing, state health officials project that cases will continue to "rise rapidly."

Zink and other health officials, including State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin, strongly urged Alaskans to wear a mask or cloth face covering whenever they are within 6 feet of anyone outside of immediate household members.

Dunleavy said told reporters he would not consider additional mandates, including a statewide mask mandate, unless cases increase further, noting that masks "are not foolproof" and sometimes work "depending on the mask and depending on the situation."

Dunleavy categorized Alaska as "probably the least restricted state in the United States" when it comes to COVID-19, later clarifying that it's important "not to politicize" the virus.

"The vast majority of our communities have not seen COVID," he said, referring to Alaska's multitude of small, remote villages. "When we see such spread throughout a large number of our communities, that might have us rethink a universal statewide mask mandate, but that hasn't happened."

The governor was joined Wednesday evening by representatives from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association and the Alaska Hospitality Retailers, who all urged Alaskans to wear masks in public in order to be able to support local restaurants and businesses in a "safe manner."

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz implemented a municipality-wide mandate Wednesday, lowering allowable bar and restaurant capacity back to 25% in an effort to decrease disease spread linked the business type.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.