COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

State announces 11th death associated with COVID-19

DHSS updates the way cases are recorded for the Kenai Peninsula

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced the 11th death of a resident associated with COVID-19 on Tuesday, as well as 11 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The person who died is from the Anchorage area, data on the state’s coronavirus response hub website shows. Of the 11 new cases announced Tuesday, six are people who live in Anchorage, one is an Anchor Point resident, one is a Haines resident, one is a Kotzebue resident, one is a Nome resident and one is a resident of the Kenai Peninsula Borough in an unnamed community, according to DHSS.

This is the first recorded case for Haines.

The person who died was living at the Providence Transitional Care Center, according a DHSS press release. That particular facility now has 41 positive cases of residents and staff since the first case there was identified on May 29.

“Learning of this person’s death from COVID-19 hits us hard at DHSS and we join the family and loved ones in mourning their loss,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink in the press release. “Providence is aggressively responding to this outbreak but this just shows how we’re all connected and why each of us must be diligent in doing everything we can to prevent the spread of this disease in our communities.”

Of the 573 total COVID-19 cases now in the state, 389 people have recovered so far, according to state data. Cases reported each day by noon reflect the cases that were reported to the state the previous day.

With a total population of about 58,000 people, according to Alaska Department of Labor 2019 estimates, the Kenai Peninsula now has a cumulative total of 85 cases, and is tied with the Fairbanks North Star Borough for the second highest number of cases after the Municipality of Anchorage. However, all Fairbanks area cases — except for the two people in that borough who have died — have recovered. That borough no longer has any active cases.

On the peninsula, two people have died with their death associated with COVID-19, 29 people have recovered and 54 cases are still active.

The state has also changed the way it records cases in small communities on the Kenai Peninsula in response to multiple requests. DHSS identifies communities according to Census Designated Places. A Census Designated Place might not be the same as a person’s residential address.

DHSS uses the category called “other” for cases in communities within the borough that have fewer than 1,000 people. This is to help protect the identity of the people in those small communities who test positive.

Now, data on the state’s coronavirus response hub breaks out those cases between the northern peninsula and the southern peninsula. Both the Homer News and representatives from the City of Homer had requested the state make this change. In a briefing she gave to the Homer City Council at its Monday meeting via Zoom, Zink said she had recently received many similar requests via email.

“There’s been a specific request to separate out the south Kenai Peninsula from the north Kenai Peninsula so that it was a little bit more clear from that perspective,” she said.

Zink said on Monday night that the DHSS data team was working on that. By Tuesday, the change had been implemented on the state coronavirus website.

The breakdown of the 22 cases in the “other” category for the Kenai Peninsula shows that only one of them is on the northern peninsula, while 21 of the cases are on the southern peninsula.

The breakdown of the cases on the peninsula is now as follows: 21 cases in the “other” category on the southern peninsula, 19 Homer cases, 13 Kenai cases, 11 Soldotna cases, eight Anchor Point cases, four Nikiski cases, three Seward cases, three Sterling cases, one case in the “other” category for the northern peninsula, one Fritz Creek case and one Fox River case.

Zink told the council in her visitor presentation that the peninsula is experiencing a cluster of cases, along with Anchorage. The rise in cases is due in part to all four of the main ways Zink said the virus spreads: through travel, through asymptomatic people, through large gatherings and through people in congregate settings — people who live together, for example.

Gatherings have played a part in the recent cluster of cases, Zink said.

“There appears to be numerous gatherings that took place over the Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “Celebratory and family gatherings that seemed to be an acceleration event, particularly in the Kenai Peninsula. People get together, feel fine, and then afterwards share the disease and then we start to see an outbreak from there.”

While those gatherings accelerated the rise of cases on the peninsula, Zink said she would not consider the situation on the peninsula to be “widespread” community spread of the virus.

Statewide, there has been a cumulative total of 49 hospitalizations for confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Tuesday, there were 12 being actively being hospitalized for either a confirmed case or a suspected case.

Also Tuesday, the state announced two new cases of nonresidents who have tested positive within the state. One is a seafood industry worker in the Aleutians East Borough and the other is a seafood industry worker in the combined Bristol Bay & Lake Peninsula Borough.

There are now a total of 49 cases in the state of nonresidents. The majority of them are seafood industry workers.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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