KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Ketchikan Public Health officials counted 49 new COVID-19 cases from Thursday and Friday combined, bumping Ketchikan's total of known active cases up to 91 as of Friday evening.

The public health dashboard showed four local hospitalizations due to the virus as of its update at 4:24 p.m. Friday.

A separate PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center dashboard, which reports the previous day's hospitalizations by 11 a.m. the following day, showed five people were hospitalized when it updated at 11 a.m. Friday.

Local health officials have charted 119 cases in the past seven days and 167 cases in the past two weeks, according to the dashboard.

Ketchikan's average daily case rate — the average number of newly detected cases per 100,000 individuals over a seven-day period — was 870.7 on Friday.

The full Ketchikan Public Health information dashboard can be accessed at www.kgbak.us/913/COVID-19-Response.

Positive test results collected from at-home COVID-19 antigen test kits are not included in Ketchikan's count of COVID-19 cases, according to state and local health officials.  

Ketchikan High School update

 "Additional" COVID-19 cases connected to Ketchikan High School were announced on Friday in a letter from Kayhi Principal Jason House to students and families.

The Friday statement follows three other announcements this week, all noting "multiple" or "additional" cases.

"Positive individuals have been identified and ordered to isolate," House wrote. " Contact tracing is ongoing and those individuals are being contacted as they are identified."

 Ketchikan School District update

 Beginning Sunday, Ketchikan School District officials will publish a weekly COVID-19 dashboard providing "school-by-school information on COVID case counts," House wrote in his Friday statement.

 KSD COVID-19 Communications and Public Relations Director Linnaea Troina confirmed to the Daily News on Friday that the dashboard will be posted on the district website and on Facebook each Sunday.

 Troina also confirmed that from Saturday morning (Jan. 1) through 12:30 p.m. Friday, a total of 63 COVID-19 cases had been reported to the district.

"That does not mean 63 people were walking around the schools infectious," Troina said. "Those were the ones that were either caught by us or called in by families or staff."

 Metlakatla update

 The Annette Island Service Unit reported seven new COVID-19 cases in Metlakatla on Friday, bumping the community's total number of active cases up to 48, according to an evening announcement from the Metlakatla Indian Community.

"This is possibly an inaccurate active case count due to home-test positives not being reported," the MIC statement noted.

Metlakatla remained at Alert Level 2: Moderate on Friday.

 A separate announcement, signed by Keolani Booth of MIC's Emergency Operations Center, explained that the number of active cases in the community does not impact the risk level determination.

 "Instead it relies on the nature of case clusters, if the positive cases are contained and the knowledge of the source," according to Booth's statement. "Throughout this pandemic we have learned how to react and how to keep vital functions going while providing good mitigation efforts to minimize the spread of the virus. It also is not feasible or necessary to 'lock down.'"

In Metlakatla, all businesses, public spaces and places of worship are required to submit a COVID-19 safety plan.

"To be truly successful in this time we must all work together to keep our families and loved ones safe," the statement read.

 To date, 199 cases have been recorded in Metlakatla, according to MIC.

 COVID-19 in Alaska

Alaska, following a nationwide trend, has seen a severe increase in COVID-19 infections around the state, even as hospitalizations remain relatively stable and deaths do not appear to be rising.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, speaking during a Thursday press briefing, stated that "things are changing rapidly here in the state of Alaska."

"We have really noticed a very significant change in cases and case reporting," Zink said.

Effective Monday, many facilities or testing sites will be required to report only positive COVID-19 test results to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services' Section of Epidemiology.

Zink said that the change was made to alleviate pressure from small operations that are burdened by reporting every result, using fishing vessels or small schools as examples of these sites.

But with the shift comes a change in how useful certain metrics used to watch COVID-19 in Alaska are — namely, the state's percent positivity rate.

As of Friday, that rate was measured at an all-time high of more than 18%. But that rate doesn't reflect all negative tests conducted, and also doesn't include test results (whether negative or positive) identified through the use of at-home COVID-19 antigen test kits.

For those reasons, DHSS will be working to change how information about test positivity is presented on the state's COVID-19 information dashboard. The focus now will be on how many tests are reported to DHSS, rather than the percent of positive results received, according to Zink.

Zink also spoke of the rapidly spreading omicron variant, which she said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported as making up 95.4% of all cases in the country. Alaska identified its first case in late November through the process of genomic sequencing, tracing the case back to an Anchorage resident with a recent history of international travel.

"But I think it's pretty clear that omicron is here and it's spreading across Alaska," she said.

While an online dashboard managed by DHSS and the Alaska State Virology Lab showed only seven omicron cases, that only represents test samples that have gone through the sequencing process. Not all positive test results are sequenced, and the process takes weeks to complete.

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin, also speaking during the Thursday briefing, said "our state public health lab is screaming results for something called 's gene target failure.'"

McLaughlin said that "s gene target failure" has been connected to the presence of the omicron variant.

"And what we've found over the past five days or so is anywhere from about 80% to 95% (of those samples) are coming back positive (for omicron)," he continued.

Health officials have emphasized that mitigation measures in the face of omicron's spread are the same as for other variants.

Anna Frick, a syndromic surveillance specialist with DHSS, said it is key to make sure that your mask fits snugly to your face, and has layers.

"We know for sure that a mask that has big gaps ... is not doing a good job of making air move through the material," Frick explained. "And so you can have the fanciest mask in the world, but if it doesn't fit you well it's not doing a good job."

Frick noted that the ideal mask has three layers of material and fits to your face without large gaps around the cheeks.

Statewide case information

Alaska recorded a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases between Wednesday and Thursday, with the state Department of Health and Social Services logging more than 3,700 cases in the two-day period — a record for that time frame — along with the virus-related death of a Southeast resident.

According to a Friday afternoon case statement from DHSS, the virus-related death involved a man in his 70s from the Hoonah-Angoon and Yakutat combined area. Online DHSS information showed that, since the start of the pandemic, four residents of that region have died of COVID-19.

The case statement also showed that of a total of 3,640 new infections identified between Wednesday and Thursday, all but 106 were Alaskans. Of the resident cases, 1,784 were counted on Wednesday and 1,750 were noted on Thursday.

A Friday afternoon social media post from Zink stated that "while there my be some small data backlogs due to the holiday, today's record high case counts are not due to backlogs."

Areas with 10 or more new resident cases logged between Wednesday and Thursday by DHSS were Anchorage (2,062); Fairbanks (210); Juneau (199); Kodiak (146); Eagle River (128); the Greater Wasilla Area (87); North Pole (53); Sitka (42); the Greater Palmer Area (38); Unalaska (36); Bethel (31); the Kusilvak Census Area (29); the Fairbanks North Star Borough (28); the Bethel Census Area and Soldotna (27 each); Metlakatla and the Nome Census Area (26 apiece); Chugiak (23); Ketchikan and Homer (21 apiece); Nome (18); the Northwest Arctic Borough (17); Valdez (16); Girdwood and the North Slope Borough (14 each); Wrangell and Kenai (13 each); and Utqiagvik, Kotzebue, Haines and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (11 each).

Other Southeast communities to count new resident cases included Craig (nine), Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon and the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area (eight), Petersburg (two), and Skagway (one), according to the DHSS summary.

The nonresident cases were tallied in Anchorage (60); Fairbanks (12); Prudhoe Bay (eight); the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area (seven); Juneau and Unalaska (three each); Wasilla, Kodiak and the Northwest Arctic Borough (two each); and Ketchikan, Palmer, Wrangell, Sitka, Kotzebue, the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula Borough and Hoonah-Angoon and Yaktuat combined (one apiece).

Since the start of the pandemic, 158,436 resident cases and 5,917 nonresident cases have been identified by DHSS.

Booster shot recommendation update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved booster shots for everyone over the age of 12, and third doses of a primary vaccine series for individuals between 5 and 11 with certain health conditions.

As of Friday, current online CDC guidance states that individuals who received their primary series of the mRNA Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines should receive a booster dose at least five months after their original series. Previous to Friday, recipients of Moderna were encouraged to receive a booster six months past their original vaccination.

Those who received the one-shot adenoviral vector Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine are encouraged to receive a booster dose once two months have passed from their primary dose, according to CDC information.

The only vaccine available to those under the age of 18 is Pfizer, available to youth between 5 and 17 years old. However, only those between the ages of 12 and 17 are approved for a Pfizer booster. Unlike individuals over the age of 18, booster doses cannot be of a vaccine type not originally administered.

Individuals between 5 and 11 are not eligible for a booster, but those in that age bracket who are "moderately or severely immunocompromised" are eligible for a third dose 28 days following their second Pfizer dose, per the CDC.

DHSS' vaccination dashboard on Friday showed that 22.6% of eligible Alaska residents have received a booster dose since mid-August.

Hospital status update

As of midnight Thursday, 74 individuals were hospitalized due to COVID-19 throughout the state — 70 patients with confirmed virus cases and four patients who were being investigated for positivity, according to DHSS.

Six of those individuals were using ventilators to breathe while hospitalized.

Overall, COVID-19 made up 5.7% of all hospitalizations reported in Alaska on Thursday.  

Adult-level intensive care units at Bartlett Regional Hospital and Alaska Native Medical Center were listed as closed on Friday on a DHSS-maintained hospital status dashboard.

ICUs were near capacity at Alaska Regional Hospital, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and St. Elias Hospital, and were open at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

A separate dashboard showed that 27 of Alaska's 130 total adult intensive care unit beds were available, along with 281 of 1,100 total non-intensive inpatient beds.

According to DHSS information, six of 75 ICU beds in Anchorage were open, and eight of 13 beds in Gulf Coast area facilities were unoccupied. Two of 13 beds in Interior hospitals were available, and five of 14 beds were open in the Mat-Su region.

Throughout southeast, six of 15 beds were available, according to DHSS.

Weekly case information

DHSS on Friday published a statement reflecting data from the past seven days which stated "Alaska has the forty-fourth highest number of cases in the last seven days per 100,000 population among the 50 states."

"High levels of COVID-19 transmission are occurring throughout much of Alaska and the pandemic is on a rapid upward trajectory in Alaska," according to the update. "Dozens of Alaskans are hospitalized with COVID-19 each week."

Between Dec. 26 and Sunday, a total of 3,576 cases were reported by DHSS, representing a 232% increase from the week previous.

"While differences in testing and reporting due to the holidays make quantifying the rate of increase more challenging, this increase in cases is the largest week-over-week increase recorded in Alaska in terms of the absolute number of cases and is also among the largest in terms of the proportional increase," according to the update.

— Compiled by Daily News Staff Writer Raegan Miller