After a plateau of high Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations, Alaska health officials are cautiously optimistic that the downward trend of cases that began several weeks ago will continue.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday reported 445 new cases, nine recent hospitalizations and no new deaths. Of these cases, 32 were in Fairbanks.
DHSS reported 445 new cases in Alaska on Thursday and 427 on Wednesday. Although there is daily variation — and Alaska is still in the red zone — cases have been generally trending down, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said. Cases decreased by 13% from last week and by over 20% the week prior.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re still on that downward trend,” state epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale said. Castrodale said that they are hopeful that the decline will continue, but how low cases will go and how long the drop will be sustained still remains unclear.
Although Alaska is in a better place pandemic-wise than it was a month ago, the state remains on high alert level for virus transmission. The seven-day average of cases per 100,000 people is 399.6, which currently ranks seventh in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response to dropping case numbers, DHSS will return to reporting cases three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting on Dec. 6.
There were no deaths reported on Thursday but two on Wednesday. One of the deaths was of a Fairbanks woman in her 60s and the other was of a Wasilla man in his 40s.
Hospitalizations are trending down as well, providing much needed relief to health care facilities. As of Thursday, 139 people are hospitalized with the virus statewide, 18 of whom are on ventilators. Covid patients now account for 13.9% of all inpatients in Alaska. There are currently 99 patients in the Intensive Care Unit, leaving 27 ICU beds available.
In Fairbanks, hospitalizations remain much higher than the state average. There are currently 16 Covid positive patients at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, which comes out to 22% of total inpatients. FMH has eight available ICU beds.
As cases and hospitalizations trend down, vaccination rates “tick up slowly,” Zink said. On Thursday, 60% of Alaskans ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 55% are fully vaccinated. Vaccines were recently approved for children as young as five years old, and Zink said there have been inroads in vaccinating this group in Alaska.
In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, vaccination rates continue to trail slightly behind; 47% of borough residents 5 and older are completely vaccinated.
Zink encourages all Alaskans 18 and older who are a few months out from their last shot consider receiving a booster. “There’s plenty of vaccine available,” Zink said.
Alaskans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should receive a booster after six months, while those who got the Johnson & Johnson shot should get a booster after two months.
Vaccinations, Zink added, are “one of the best tools against the pandemic.” Unvaccinated people are up to 15 times more likely to need to be hospitalized with Covid than their vaccinated peers.