Alaska has recorded 165 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in three days, continuing an accelerated increase in the case count since the state relaxed its preventive measures in May.
Saturday’s update from the Department of Health and Social Services showed 55 new cases: 48 in Alaska residents and seven in nonresidents. Four of the resident cases are of people who live in Fairbanks. Two of the nonresident cases are from within the Fairbanks North Star Borough, but the department’s update listed the industry as “unknown.”
However, an employee of Fort Knox gold mine has tested positive for the virus, according to Anna Atchison, the mine’s manager of external affairs. Atchison, in an email Saturday, said the case is the second for the mine.
“The individual is doing well and is at home,” she wrote. “We are continuing our investigation, but we can confirm that eight others may have come into contact with this individual and they are also isolating.”
No information about the latest death was included in the state’s Saturday update. Sixteen Alaskans have died from the disease; some of those 16 died out of state.
Saturday’s announcement of 55 new cases follows Friday’s announcement of 60 cases and Thursday’s announcement of 50 cases. A health department projection shows the case count continuing an upward trajectory.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Social Services reported that 11 of the 60 cases announced that day were residents of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Of the cases announced Friday, 46 are residents and 14 are nonresidents. The 11 new cases of Fairbanks borough residents is the highest recorded in the borough during the virus outbreak.
The department also announced a fatality that day — an Anchorage man in his 80s who died June 11. That was the 15th death of an Alaskan related to the COVID-19 disease.
The rising number of cases and the increased mixing among the population following the loosened restrictions has made contract tracing more difficult and reduced the number of times infected people are checked on during quarantine, according to health officials.
“Early on, people who tested positive usually had a short list of close contacts,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist. “Now, as people are mixing more with others, it’s not uncommon for someone who tests positive to have had dozens of close contacts, sometimes too many to name and call. That’s making it really difficult for our contact tracers to keep pace.”
Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said the state is trying to increase the number of people doing contract tracing.
“We’re working extremely hard to expand our workforce but with so many recent cases, we are not able to continue daily check-in phone calls to people in quarantine,” she said “Our contact tracers are now contacting most people who have been identified as a close contact to a confirmed case only once to inform them of their exposure, the need to remain in quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms, and what to do if symptoms arise.”
Previously, contact tracing was done by staff at the Division of Public Health, the Anchorage Health Department, Maniilaq Association, North Slope Borough, Anchorage School District, CDC Arctic Investigations Program, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp., Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Friday’s announcement from the Department of Health and Social Services said contact tracing is being expanded by doing the following:
• Hiring additional nonpermanent staff in the Division of Public Health
• Partnering with Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and other Alaska school districts to make use of school nurses
• Deploying Alaska Air National Guard members with health and public health experience
• Working with the University of Alaska Anchorage, College of Health to create a training system for contact tracers and to directly hire additional contact tracers.
Contact Editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.