A single new case of COVID-19 was recorded in Ketchikan on Thursday, according to an evening press release from the local Emergency Operations Center.

The case was detected at the Ketchikan International Airport traveler testing site.

“This individual is a Ketchikan resident who returned to Ketchikan on (Tuesday), and is currently symptomatic,” stated the release.

Public health officials initiated a contact tracing investigation in response to the case.

The EOC statement also noted that Creekside Family Health Clinic on Thursday received a shipment of the reagent necessary to quickly process tests from the Berth 3 drive-up clinic and the traveler testing sites.

The reagent shipment was delayed by the manufacturer on Wednesday, according to the EOC. All tests conducted Tuesday through Thursday morning at the drive-up and traveler testing sites were sent to a laboratory in Seattle for processing, with results expected back by Monday.

In a separate press release on Thursday afternoon, the EOC announced that a Ketchikan resident was medevaced to Bellingham, Washington, on Monday due to COVID-19. The woman was previously hospitalized in PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit, and had been reported by the EOC as discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. However, the woman had been transferred to a different facility on Monday.

The EOC announcement quoted a family member of the patient, who said the patient was in “critical condition.”

The EOC itself was not able to comment further regarding the hospitalization.

“The EOC is able to provide information on the current number of individuals hospitalized at the PKMC Covid-19 Unit, but not the status of those individuals,” the release read. “The EOC does not have information about the identity of individuals who are positive cases or who have been admitted into the hospital. Additionally, the EOC, in general, does not have information on the status of individuals after they have been released or transferred from PKMC, unless we have been notified by the family.”

“Please take the extra precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones,” the press release stated. “While most people who get this virus are able to recover with few symptoms or long-term effects, there are many who are hit hard by Covid-19 and become very ill. It is for these most vulnerable members of our community that we need to stay diligent.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic this spring, Ketchikan has tallied 193 COVID-19 cases. Of those cases, 15 were active as of Thursday evening.

In Ketchikan, 23,941 COVID-19 tests have been administered.

As of Thursday, the local positivity rate was 2.83%, following a week-long period of a positivity rate higher than 3%.

COVID-19 in Alaska

On a statewide level, hospital capacity and staffing remain prominent concerns for state epidemiologists.

During a Thursday afternoon media briefing, Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said that “it's becoming harder and harder" to staff Alaska’s hospitals.

Zink said the state’s current capacity issues feel different than the rush expected during influenza season, which, she noted, typically peaks in mid-winter.

"This feels very different," Zink said. "When you're seeing half, sometimes two-thirds of your patients in your shift who are there because of COVID, this feels different."

Zink said it's not just a matter of how many beds are available, but the number of staff who are trained to care for the type of patient that would occupy the bed. A large number of Alaska health care workers also have COVID-19, leaving some facilities short-staffed.

In effort to adjust for the surge of COVID-19 issues in Alaska hospitals, officials are "pulling back" on nonessential medical procedures.

Zink also noted that, unlike earlier in the pandemic, hospitals around Alaska are caring for COVID-19 patients. In the spring, Anchorage-area facilities took the majority of virus patients.

"So even hospitals that never thought they would (have COVID-19 patients) are doing that," Zink said. "Our team is reaching out to them."

Other hospitals in the United States also are experiencing capacity issues, according to Zink.

“What is happening in the Lower 48 is really impacting our ability to transfer patients (out of state),” she noted, referencing the possibility of transferring Alaskan patients to Seattle-area facilities.

Caring for COVID-19 patients is different than providing non-virus related care.

"It's really hard to care for a COVID patient," she said. "There's a lot of additional things you need to do to protect yourself."

One of these tasks is "donning" and "doffing" — the putting on and taking off of personal protective equipment.

"The gear is hot and loud, and you are stuck in the room, ... You can't just go out (of the room) like you normally would."

Jared Kosin, the director of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said that "cracks" are appearing in the state's hospital system.

“We’re starting to see the cracks now,” Kosin said. “The fact that patients are being transferred to rural areas, to facilities that usually don’t have those transfers in normal times, is a crack.”

Even with looming issues facing state hospitals, DHSS epidemiologists outlined measures that Alaskans can take to keep themselves healthy.

“There’s a lot of things that you can do to take care of your overall health,” Zink said. “This is the time to quit smoking, this is the time to lose weight, this is the time to make sure that your underlying health issues are under control.”

Heading into the holiday season, state officials said it’s important to stay conscious of COVID-19.

DHSS infectious disease epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale said she could not provide a clear answer on how the state’s case count would look toward the Christmas holidays.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Castrodale explained. “I think there’s definitely some work that’s being done by the modelers, looking at where we’ve kind of been and where we’re possibly heading (during the holidays).”

Castrodale also said, “It doesn’t feel like the number of reports that we’re getting each day is slowing down. … I can just sort of stress that we’re continuing to accelerate.”

“What happens in the next couple of weeks is really up to us,” Zink added. “This isn’t like an earthquake that happens to us. This virus only replicates if it has human bodies to replicate in.”

Statewide case information

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported the 100th resident COVID-19 death on Thursday.

The death of an Anchorage man in his 40s is the 101st death in the state, and the 100th COVID-19 death involving an Alaska resident. The state’s sole nonresident death, involving a man in Soldotna, was recorded this past week.

In its weekly COVID-19 update for Nov. 8 through Saturday, DHSS reported that cases increased in Alaska for the seventh consecutive week, as the statewide positivity rate also continue to rise to a record highs.

During the past week, all regions of Alaska were at a high alert level.

The largest case increases were recorded in the Anchorage Municipality and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

DHSS data also indicated that “positivity rates for arriving travelers getting tested at Alaska airports have nearly doubled over the last two weeks, illustrating an increased risk of travel.”

As of midnight Wednesday, DHSS reported the following COVID-19 statistics for that day:

·New cases on Wednesday: 500 resident cases and five nonresident cases, for a total of 505 cases

·Areas to record 10 or more cases on Wednesday: Anchorage (248); Bethel (29); Soldotna (28); Wasilla (22); Fairbanks (20); Kenai (19); and Delta Junction and Sterling (11).

• Southeast regions to record cases on Wednesday: Six in Sitka, five in Juneau and one in Skagway.

• Nonresident case locations: one case was attributed to Homer, and four were counted in unidentified region(s) of the state.

• Cumulative cases: 26,081 (24,909 resident cases and 1,172 nonresident cases).

• Total hospitalizations: 593.

• Current hospitalizations: 139 (117 of those hospitalizations involve COVID-19 positive patients, and 22 involve those under investigation for the virus).

• New deaths: One.

• Total number of deaths: 101 (100 deaths involve Alaskans, and one death was that of a nonresident).

• Statewide tests conducted: 898,799.

• Statewide risk level: High. The state’s average daily case rate (measured per 100,000 residents during a 14-day period) was 75.08. Information regarding Tuesday or Monday’s average daily case rate was not available.

• Statewide positivity rate across the past seven days: 8.03%, down from 8.26% on Tuesday.