COVID cases accelerate statewide

Wrangell’s half-dozen new COVID-19 cases July 15-27 are a small piece of a wave of infections spreading across Alaska, with more than 2,200 cases reported statewide during that same period.

Most of the new cases are people who have not been vaccinated, state officials said.

The hardest-hit communities have been Sitka, the Kenai Peninsula, Cordova, Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Juneau, though almost all of Alaska is at high alert this week based on rising case counts.

There were 95 COVID patients in Alaska hospitals as of Tuesday, the highest count since December, as the highly infectious Delta variant is spreading.

Sitka’s active case count was 220 as of Tuesday evening, though the rate of new cases trended lower over the past weekend. The active case count represents more than one-quarter of the community’s total number of cases for the pandemic stretching back to last spring.

Juneau officials reported 44 new cases Saturday through Monday, adding to a growing case count in the community.

“Over the past 14 days, 150 people tested positive for COVID-19 in our community, a significant majority of whom were residents,” Mila Cosgrove, deputy city manager, said in a prepared statement on Monday. “We have not had a 14-day case count this high during the entire pandemic.”

There were 112 active cases of COVID-19 in Juneau as of Monday evening. The city last week ordered a mask mandate for municipal buildings and for unvaccinated residents indoors in public spaces.

State health officials report the vast majority of new cases in Alaska are people who have not been vaccinated against the virus.

Cordova has been hit hard, with dozens of seafood workers and community members infected, resulting in the closure of a seafood processing plant and prompting a mask mandate for city workers.

The city of just over 2,800 residents reported a peak last week of almost 60 active cases, including workers at the Camtu’s Alaska Wild Seafoods plant, temporarily shutting down the plant for a salmon fishing opener.

Cordova’s active case count was down to 40 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Starting next Monday, all Cordova city employees will be required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for the virus, the city manager announced. Staffing at the city’s dispatch center was stretched thin last week, with some employees out with the virus.

Petersburg reported its second COVID death of the pandemic last week.

At least three more cruise ships in Alaska waters reported COVID-19 among passengers this week. The 74-passenger Wilderness Explorer left Ketchikan and headed straight for Juneau on Monday evening, canceling its full itinerary, after seven fully vaccinated people aboard the ship tested positive for COVID.

Ketchikan officials said some of the infected travelers planned to isolate in hotels after the ship docked in Juneau.

Juneau officials on Monday reported one case each on a large ship, the Celebrity Millennium, and on a small ship, the American Constellation, which already had an outbreak of 16 COVID cases earlier this month.

Celebrity Cruises said the passenger flew home aboard “private air transportation.”

“I think that we were never expecting the cruise season to be entirely COVID free,” Robert Barr, Juneau’s deputy city manager, told Juneau public radio station KTOO.

State health officials continue to preach that vaccines are the best defense against the spread of the Coronavirus. Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, told reporters the vaccine effectiveness is “exceptionally high,” but it is “not perfect.”

The vaccination rate among eligible Alaskans — ages 12 and older — has held mostly steady in the past week at 57% with at least one dose of a vaccine and 52% fully vaccinated, below the national rates of almost 67% and 58% — with 30 states doing better than Alaska, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wrangell was at 62% at least partially vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to state statistics.

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk,”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a July 16 interview on National Public Radio.The state is continuing to contract with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium for free COVID testing at the Wrangell airport. The contract had been scheduled to expire June 30, but the state decided to continue paying for the tests, which are available to travelers and anyone else in the community.

SEARHC also provides vaccinations in Wrangell, at no cost to the individual.

Alaska’s 88-year-old member of the U.S. House, Don Young, tweeted on Monday to encourage people to get vaccinated. Young, who had COVID-19 last year, tweeted, “It is NOT an experience I want again. That is why I chose to get vaccinated.”

He added, “I understand there is quite a bit of misinformation out there, so let me be clear: These vaccines are safe and can help keep you out of the hospital.”


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