Fairbanks North Star Borough moved to a low-risk Covid-19 zone on Thursday based on steadily decreasing virus transmission, and Alaska as a whole is approaching it as well.
“It’s been great to see these cases decreasing,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Anne Zink said during a Thursday news conference. “We are really darn close to that yellow (statewide risk alert, indicating) less than five new cases per 100,000 people. We are just on the verge of that, and hopefully we’ll tip over that any day now.”
The borough just tipped over that threshold, reporting the two-week average of 4.90 cases and joining more than half of Alaska regions already in a low-risk zone, according to Thursday’s report for the Department of Health and Social Services.
A few places in Alaska are still seeing increases in cases, including parts of the Interior.
“South Fairbanks region is the one area that has had a bit of a pick-up in cases as well as the percent positivity,” Zink said.
According to the state data, the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area exceeded its May case counts several times last week. The two-week case average for the Other Interior Region is around 17 cases — second highest in the state.
Such spikes are expected and don’t change the overall positive trend, said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with Alaska’s Division of Public Health.
“We’re still expecting that we’ll see little flare-ups and clusters as this goes on, but overall, the numbers are really trending downward,” she said.
Among those who test positive for the virus, more people tend to be symptomatic, since asymptomatic vaccinated people are no longer recommended to get tested, Castrodale added.
State epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said that over 98% of hospitalizations related to Covid-19 have been still among people who are unvaccinated.
Zink agreed: “The risk of Covid really depends on your vaccine status, where you’re at — indoors or outdoors — and how much Covid we have spreading, so it’s great to see all of those things moving in the positive direction.”
Fairbanks ramped up vaccinations in May
In May, Alaska rolled out the “Sleeves Up for Summer” vaccination campaign and vaccinated about 15% more people, with Fairbanks increasing its rate by more than 9%.
“Every borough increased their vaccine rates in the month of May,” Zink said. “You can even see areas — Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Mat-Su, Anchorage, you know, those along the rail belt — all increased rates fairly significantly during this past month, and we continue to work on making sure vaccines are readily available across the state.”
As of now, about 320,000 Alaskans have received at least their first vaccine dose, with over 53% of those 12 and above getting vaccinated. In Fairbanks North Star Borough, 45% of people received at least one dose.
“We’re still vaccinating about a thousand people a day,” Zink said. “Sometimes it feels like this is going slow, but there’s still a lot of people getting vaccinated.”
Since June, airport vaccinations have started in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau “for anyone and everyone who comes in,” including visitors, tourists and workers coming to the state, Zink said.
“If someone needs a second dose, they can just go ahead and get their second dose anywhere” in Alaska, she added.
Since vaccine eligibility was expanded on Tuesday to travelers, the numbers have jumped up, and the providers received a lot of requests for vaccinating groups, said Terry O’Connor, deputy director for the Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health.
“Since Tuesday, more than half of the people who come through are either international travelers or international workers,” she added. “We have a lot of workers in Alaska, including those with the tourism industry, who might be coming from other countries. It sounds like we’ve been having those folks and pilots from cargo airlines coming from other countries.”
Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.