1 new Alaska death, 15 new COVID-19 cases reported on peninsula

An Anchorage man in his 80s is the latest and 29th death linked to COVID-19, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced in a press conference Tuesday.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also announced 68 new cases of COVID-19, 64 of which are Alaska residents. That includes six new cases in Kenai, six new cases in Soldotna and two new cases in the “Other North” category used for communities in the northern Kenai Peninsula with populations of less than 1,000 people. DHSS does not name communities with smaller populations of under 1,000. Homer also had one new case reported Tuesday.

The 15 new resident cases on the central peninsula pushed central peninsula public schools into the “red” or high-risk level, defined as 52 or more cases in the last 14 days in an area. That means schools from Nikiski through Sterling and Kasilof will not open physically and will start the school year 100% remote on Aug. 24.

“The need to make rational and informed operational decisions is primary for the health and safety of our students, staff, and communities,” said Pegge Erkeneff, communications director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, in a press release.

Lower and eastern peninsula schools remain in the “green” or low-risk level as do remote or off-road schools.

The new cases announced by the state Tuesday are in Anchorage (21), Wasilla (8), Kenai (6), Soldotna (6), Fairbanks (4), North Pole (4), Kenai Peninsula Borough North (2), Northwest-Arctic Borough (2), Sitka (2) and one each in Douglas, Eagle River, Homer, Juneau, Kotzebue, Nome, Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Valdez-Cordova Census Area and Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.

Of the 64 Alaska residents, 29 are male, 34 are female and one is unknown. Four are under the age of 10; four are aged 10-19; 12 are aged 20-29; 10 are aged 30-39; 15 are aged 40-49; seven are aged 50-59; nine are aged 60-69; two are aged 70-79 and one is aged 80 or older.

The Anchorage man who died had underlying health conditions.

Four new nonresident cases also were reported, with two in the Kodiak Island Borough working in the seafood industry, one in Soldotna under investigation and one in Petersborough under investigation.

That brings the case count to 4,317 resident cases and 806 nonresident cases.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink explained some of what is happening with the cluster of cases in the central peninsula.

“It’s important to remember if you have a positive case, and they have a work environment, or a home where there’s other people around them on a regular basis, sometimes these clusters can last for a bit as we’re testing additional people in their circle to make sure that we identify those other cases early and quickly,” she said.

The novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 can spread through droplets in the air expelled when people sneeze, cough, talk, sing or breathe, especially when people are in confined spaces. That’s why public health officials encourage physical distancing of at least 6 feet apart and the wearing of face coverings when social distancing is not possible. At the press conference, Dunleavy said he wears a mask about 80% of the time, like when he goes to the store or is in a group.

“It’s really about how much time we spend with others,” Zink said of the spread of the coronavirus. “We’re seeing it in backyard barbecues, were seeing it in gatherings, we’re seeing it at work places. We’re seeing it whenever people are close together and spending prolonged periods of time. We’re seeing the tail end of those clusters for a bit of a time as family members and others get tested and work through the process. We continue to see that in Kenai as we move through those cases.”

As of Tuesday’s report, there have been a cumulative total of 179 hospitalizations and 29 deaths, with four new hospitalizations and one new death reported. There are currently 41 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who are hospitalized and six additional patients who currently being hospitalized with as people under investigation. Recovered cases — individuals who no longer require isolation — total 1,285 for Alaska resident. A total of 183 nonresidents have recovered so far.

There have been 305,648 tests done in the state. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the previous seven days is 1.71%. According to a press release from DHSS on late Tuesday, citing the Worldometer COVID-19 data site, Alaska leads the nation in the number of tests done per capita.

According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, Alaska ranks first in testing among states and second to the District of Columbia, a territory. Alaska has 4.9 tests per 1,000 people and D.C. 5.1 tests per 1,000.

As of Monday, South Peninsula Hospital had done 7,177 total tests, with 6,997 negative, 112 total positive results and 68 tests pending.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.