Alaska reported the deaths of two relatively young residents linked to COVID-19 on Thursday as the number of people hospitalized with the virus continued to decline.
The state also reported 347 new resident cases and two non-resident cases.
The deaths reported Thursday involved an Anchorage man in his twenties and a Dillingham census area man in his thirties. So far, 853 Alaskan residents and 30 non-residents have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
[Anchorage’s busiest COVID-19 testing site, at Loussac Library, closes with no notice as city switches contractor]
COVID-19-related hospitalizations continued to decline. On Thursday, the state was reporting 71 patients with active cases of the virus hospitalized statewide. About 7% of all hospital patients in the state are positive for COVID. These numbers do not include some people who are recovering from the disease and need ongoing care, sometimes for weeks.
This is a significant drop from the peak of more than 200 people hospitalized on average since September, peaking at over 240 in October.
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The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services announced in a briefing Thursday that the state was extending a contract that brought 470 out-of-state health workers to Alaska by a month, until at the end of January. Not all workers are expected to want to stay, but health officials say they are trying to find replacements for them.
The state signed an $ 87 million contract in September with a company called DLH Solutions to provide additional assistance to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
The state is requesting “a 100 percent share of the costs” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the extension, the state’s public health division chief Gene Wiseman said during the briefing.
Help is still needed, officials said.
“Hospitals think a pressure relief valve would probably be the best way to put it,” Wiseman said. The workers allowed hospital administrators “to focus on long-term solutions and problems.”
The state’s test positivity rate – the number of positive tests out of the total done – was 5.2% on Thursday, just above the 5% level that typically indicates enough testing is being done.
Through most of September and October, Alaska recorded the nation’s highest seven-day case rate. Alaska ranked 17th among states for its seven-day COVID-19 case rate on Wednesday, with 271.1 cases per 100,000 people.
Health officials have called vaccination the best tool Alaskans have to prevent future outbreaks. About 61% of Alaskans aged 5 and over have received a dose of the vaccine while 55% are considered fully immunized. Alaska currently ranks in the bottom third of the nation – at 31st – for its vaccination rate.
Measured during the pandemic, Alaska’s death rate is the sixth lowest in the country, according to CDC data. The death toll per 100,000 in Alaska over the past week ranked 19th in the country.
Journalist Annie Berman contributed to this story.
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