Alaska reports nearly 1,800 new COVID-19 cases and 44 deaths, in part due to backlog

Alaska broke several daily records for COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths on Friday, but public health officials said the high numbers were due at least in part to data backlogs.

Data entry backlogs meant the roughly 1,800 new cases reported Friday were inflated by several hundred older cases, health officials said.

“That does not diminish the fact that we continue to see tremendous COVID spread in our communities,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said in a call with news media.

The 41 Alaska resident deaths from COVID-19 reported Friday occurred primarily last month, officials said. A few took place even earlier this year and hadn’t yet been included in the tally because of a cyber attack that hobbled the state’s death certificate record keeping system.

But, a record 217 hospitalizations reported Friday were not part of the data backlog and represented the growing number of people sick enough with COVID-19 to need hospital care in Alaska.

Over the last month, the state has recorded its “highest incidence of cases we’ve ever experienced, straining our public health infrastructure, our hospitals, our businesses and our economy,” Zink said.

The majority of the 44 deaths reported Friday — which included 41 residents and three nonresidents — were fatalities that occurred in August and were identified through a standard review of death certificates, officials said Friday.

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Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, according to DHSS.

Some deaths are less clear-cut than others, and take longer to verify, which can account for periodic delays.

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About a dozen of the deaths reported Friday occurred in the spring; for these, reporting was delayed by a May cyberattack that targeted the state health department, leaving many of its systems offline for months, officials said.

Continually high numbers of COVID-19 patients continue to overwhelm health care facilities around the state.

By Friday, a state dashboard was reporting a new record of 217 people hospitalized around the state with COVID-19 — higher than at any point in the pandemic, and far above last winter’s peak.

Hospitals say their numbers are likely an undercount of the true impact of COVID-19, since they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.

The vast majority of Alaska’s cases, hospitalizations and death have been among people who are unvaccinated.

In August in Alaska, state data showed that residents were 8.3 times less likely to require hospitalization if they were vaccinated than if they were unvaccinated, Zink said Friday.

Earlier this week, state officials announced they would implement crisis standards of care statewide, a worst-case scenario that forces hospitals to ration care due to resource and staffing limitations.

Alaska on Friday reported a new record of 1,793 new virus cases, which followed Thursday’s previous record count of 1,330 cases plus seven deaths.

A few hundred of the cases reported Friday were from positive test results last week and the week before as well as a few from even before that, said epidemiologist Dr. Louisa Castrodale. She said once the state is through its backlog they expect to see roughly 1,000 cases a day.

Alaska’s case rate per capita remains the highest in the nation — and about three times higher than the national average, according to a New York Times tracker.

Statewide, 9.23% of tests conducted over the last week returned positive results.

Among eligible Alaskans 12 and older, 62.8% had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 58.5% were considered fully vaccinated by Thursday.

In total, 514 residents and 18 nonresidents in the state have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic.