Alaska on Tuesday reported 17 COVID-19 deaths — all identified during a standard death certificate review process, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services — and 140 new coronavirus infections.
It takes around nine days for a death to be registered, and then up to three weeks for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to code and classify those deaths. CDC specialists rely on cause of death noted by a medical professional to certify each death.
This reporting process has been in place for decades and is considered the most accurate way COVID-19 deaths are tracked, health officials have said.
The deaths involved several Anchorage residents, including three women in their 90s, a man in his 90s, a woman in her 80s, two men in their 70s, two men in their 50s and a man in his 40s; a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s, both from the Bethel Census Area; a Palmer man in his 80s; a Wasilla man in his 80s; a Soldotna woman in her 60s; a Ketchikan man in his 50s; and a woman from Alaska in her 60s who died out of state.
In the past, high numbers of deaths reported in a single day have also been the result of the review process. On Jan. 20, the state reported 24 COVID-19 deaths, the most reported in a single day. All but one of those deaths were identified during a death certificate review. The previous record occurred Dec. 12, when 18 deaths were recorded, including just five that had occurred recently.
In total, 277 Alaskans and two nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state in March.
Alaska’s death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country, though the state’s size and vulnerable health care system complicate national comparisons.
The state also reported 140 new infections Tuesday, continuing a trend of lower case counts in recent months that followed a surge in November and early December.
Hospitalizations have continued to decline, too. By Tuesday, there were 42 people with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state and another seven patients suspected to have the virus. Hospitalizations are now less than a third of what they were during the early winter peak.
Despite the lower case numbers throughout January, Alaska is still in the highest alert category based on the current per capita rate of infection.
The seafood industry has again been hit with multiple outbreaks among vessels and processing facilities in the Aleutian Islands. Some of the facilities have temporarily closed just as the winter fishing season began.
Vaccines first arrived in the state in December, and by Tuesday at least 96,858 people — about 13% of the state’s population — had received at least the first dose, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard. At least 28,911 people had received both doses.
According to a national tracker, Alaska has so far vaccinated a higher percent of its total population than any other state.
Health care workers and nursing home staff and residents were the first group to receive the vaccinations. Early this month, the state opened up the vaccines to adults older than 65, although appointment slots are limited and have filled quickly, and the overall vaccine rollout has been slower than officials had originally hoped.
The state’s priority continues to be vaccinating adults 65 and older, who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness and death from the virus.
For more information about vaccination appointments, visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to receive help with scheduling.
Of the 111 cases reported among Alaska residents on Tuesday, there were 54 in Anchorage plus two in Chugiak and five in Eagle River; one in Homer; three in Kenai; two in Soldotna; one in Kodiak; eight in Fairbanks; one in Ester; three in North Pole; two in Big Lake; 11 in Palmer; 11 in Wasilla; two in Juneau; and one in Unalaska.
Among communities with populations under 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there was one in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and three in the Aleutians East Borough.
Twenty-nine nonresidents also tested positive for the virus, including two in Anchorage, two in Juneau, two in Unalaska and 23 in the Aleutians East Borough.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.