Vaccination clinic

After receiving the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, clinic attendees must wait for 15 minutes before leaving the Carlson Center to make sure they suffer no side effects. 

Fairbanks North Star Borough more than tripled its weekly Covid-19 case average this month, leading the state in community virus transmission and making the national list of counties with the highest case growth per capita.

Since the beginning of April, the borough’s weekly case average grew to 59 from 19 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Borough Risk Matrix website. The borough is now also among 10 U.S. counties with the highest Covid-19 cases number per capita, according to the New York Times.

“There is definitely more activity in Fairbanks,” Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with Alaska’s Division of Public Health, said during a Thursday news conference. “It’s activity in schools, activity in bars, activity in churches and during private events; there is also a good amount of military activity. It’s all of those cases in different venues.”

Borough Chief of Staff Jim Williams said that people gathering indoors is what’s driving the numbers up the most.

“It’s small group interactions where there aren’t good control measures put in place such as masking and staying away from each other,” Williams said. “It’s various small events where people are clustered together.”

Dr. Mark Simon, an emergency physician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, agreed that people, especially the unvaccianted, should socialize outdoors and avoid indoor gatherings to drive the virus out of the community.

Simon added that besides more people in the Fairbanks region contracting the virus, more people are getting sick enough to need to go to the hospital. The average number of local hospitalizations stays is at 10, with one person currently occupying an ICU bed.

With the vaccination rate being the second lowest in the state, the Fairbanks North Star Borough has the highest transmission rate compared to the rest of Alaska, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. In other places in the Interior, the Denali Borough reports seven new positive Covid cases in the past week, maintaining a steady upward trend that began several weeks ago.

Overall the state’s epidemic curve has been flat, but the Fairbanks region is seeing a very sharp spike.

“We need it to curve the other way,” Williams said.

This week, the borough tightened mitigation measures to decrease the spread of Covid-19 by limiting in-person meetings and conferences, Williams said. The operational status went up to “intermediate,” after staying in low status for at least a couple months. For now, the borough chose to not raise the status to “high,” trying to balance the needs of various groups in the community, Williams explained.

“We didn’t feel like we needed to close down because we have the measures that keep us from seeing high numbers in the workforce; the measures that help us keep the workplace safe. We just wanted to add some countermeasures,” he said. “We do need to have services working, we need to keep buses running, we need to keep landfill open, otherwise it’s going to get stinky here.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.