KETCHIKAN (KDN) — The Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center announced two new cases of COVID-19 and one new hospitalization on Thursday.

Statewide, 213 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Wednesday by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Alaska’s total number of vaccine doses administered also topped 200,000 on Thursday.

Both of the new local cases were still under investigation — as to the source of the infections and potential close contacts — on Thursday, according to an evening press release from the Emergency Operations Center.

“During the contact investigations, Public Health will coordinate with the positive person to reach out to anyone who may be a close contact and instruct them to quarantine,” the release noted.

Two of the cases that were announced Wednesday and still being investigated had been determined to involve close contacts to a known positive case, according to the EOC. Investigation a the third case recorded on Wednesday was still ongoing.

One new virus-related hospitalization was announced on Thursday, bringing the number of individuals in the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit to two.

Twenty-two cases of Ketchikan’s total 375 cases were labeled as active on Thursday.

The local seven-day positivity rate was 2.77% on Thursday, down slightly from Wednesday’s rate of 2.79%.

As of Thursday evening, 66 tests were pending results, marking the first time in a week that less than 100 tests had been pending in Ketchikan.

The Community Risk Level was still at Level 3 (High) on Thursday. During an emergency meeting of the Ketchikan School Board on Thursday afternoon, EOC Incident Commander Abner Hoage said that moving down to Level 2 (Moderate) by next Tuesday was “optimistic.” Hoage said that he estimates a move would be more likely to occur late next week or the following week.

COVID-19 in Alaska

State health officials on Thursday said that Alaska’s cases continue to decline steadily, similar to the rate of  new infections nationwide.

Alaska Chief Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin described the national case rate as a “steep, very precipitous decline in cases.”

At a state level, “we see a very steady decrease in cases,” he said, noting that the United States reached its pandemic peak in January.

“In Alaska, our peak actually occurred a month earlier, in December,” McLaughlin said. “This is very reassuring. ... We’re all very happy to see this decrease in cases. It begs the question, what is driving this?”

As the answer, McLaughlin pointed to a large percentage of the country’s population having been exposed to the virus — which he said is inching the country closer to herd immunity — as well as the continuing vaccination efforts.

He also said that mitigation measures, such as wearing a mask, keeping social distance and working from home, were important factors to the decline.

“All that kind of stuff in combination is working to drive those cases down,” McLaughlin said.

But virus variants remain a concern. States like California and Florida already have detected a large number of cases involving the B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom late last year. Cases involving the P.1. strain (which originated in Brazil) and the B.1.351 strain (from South Africa) also have been detected throughout the country.

“The current estimate is that the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom will likely become the predominant strain of the Sars-CoV-2 virus circulating in the United States,” McLaughlin said.

That could happen by late spring, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The B.1.1.7 variant is known to be between 40% and 50% more transmissible, according to McLaughlin, and preliminary studies have suggested that the strain also may be more virulent and fatal in some cases.

The efficacy of the current COVID-19 vaccines — Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — is being studied for cases of the South African or Brazilian strains.

Statewide case information

Alaska charted 213 new positive test results for COVID-19 on Wednesday, and no new virus-related deaths.

The state’s total of resident COVID-19 cases rose just past 55,000 cases on Wednesday, according to a Thursday summary from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Southern Southeast Alaska was still at the high alert status on Wednesday, with an average daily case rate of 12.9 — up from 10.03 on Tuesday, and higher than it has been since early December.

Southern Southeast was one of seven total regions at the high alert level on Wednesday. The region also had a higher average daily case rate than Fairbanks, which had a rate of 11.77 cases on Wednesday.

When the region’s average daily case rate — or, the average count of new cases per 100,000 population during two weeks — drops to below 10, it can return to the intermediate alert level, where it hasn’t been since Feb. 6.

One of two areas at the low alert status, Northern Southeast Alaska, on Wednesday still had the lowest average daily case rate (2.79) in the state. Juneau, also at the low alert level, had the second-lowest average daily case rate of 4.69.

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

• New cases recorded on Wednesday: 209 resident cases and four nonresident (213 cases total).

• Areas to record 10 or more new cases: Wasilla (57), Anchorage (47), Palmer (20), Fairbanks (16), the Bethel Census Area (15) and Ketchikan (10).

• Southeast areas with new cases recorded by DHSS on Wednesday: Petersburg and Sitka each recorded one case.

• Nonresident case locations: All four of the nonresident cases recorded on Wednesday involved seafood industry workers in the Aleutians East Borough.

• Cumulative state cases: 57,191 (55,009 resident and 2,182 nonresident).

• Total hospitalizations: 1,243.

• Current hospitalizations: 37. Thirty-three of those hospitalizations involved individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19, while four involved patients who were still under investigation for virus positivity. COVID-19 related hospitalizations made up 4% of all hospitalizations in Alaska on Wednesday.

• New deaths: 0.

• Total deaths: 286 resident deaths and two nonresident deaths.

• Statewide tests conducted: 1,619,459, with 24,884 of those tests being conducted in the past seven days.

• Statewide risk level: High.

• Statewide average daily case rate: 17.12, a rise from the rate of 16.66 reported on Tuesday.

• Statewide positivity rate across the past seven days: 2.27%.

Vaccine update

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 200,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine (either Pfizer or Moderna) had been administered throughout Alaska, making it the most vaccinated state per capita at that time.

About 58% of Alaskans aged 65 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said in a Thursday media briefing.

“Our goal is to get vaccines to people who want it as quickly as possible,” she said.

Of the 206,682 total shots given in Alaska, 73,461 were second doses.

As of Thursday, DHSS data showed that 18.4% of Alaskans were vaccinated with one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 10% of Alaskans had received their first and second doses.

Vaccine rollout in Alaska  is currently in Tier 2 of Phase 1b. That tier, which opened earlier this month, includes frontline essential workers over the age of 50, K-12 educators of all ages, or individuals aged 55 or older with a high risk medical condition. Individuals who were included in previous tiers also are still eligible, including frontline health care workers, long-term care facility staff and residents or Alaskans 65 years or older.

Appointments continue to be made available on a rolling basis in Alaska, with 134,000 doses of February’s total allocation administered as of Thursday.

— Compiled by Daily News Staff Writer Raegan Miller