COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in Alaska as health officials focus on unknowns of the omicron variant – Community News
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COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in Alaska as health officials focus on unknowns of the omicron variant

Alaska health officials are monitoring the new ommicron strain of the coronavirus that is raising questions and concerns around the world, even as the state reported an ongoing decline in both hospitalizations and new cases. The new variant has not yet been detected anywhere in the United States, including Alaska.

Alaska reported 730 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death this weekend, while statewide hospitalizations fell to 79 COVID-19 patients Monday.

Despite the encouraging number of cases and hospitalizations, the new variant is suddenly looming large. The omicron variant, B.1.1.529, was classified as a “Variant of Concern” by the World Health Organization late last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Much about the new variant is unknown — it’s not yet clear whether it’s more contagious like the delta variant is or whether it makes people sicker, the Associated Press reported Monday.

“That’s the big takeaway — there’s a lot more unknown in this space than what we do know,” said the state’s chief physician, Dr. Anne Zink, Monday.

[What we know and don’t know about omicron variant]

The variant, first discovered in South Africa, was found through sequencing efforts when the country saw a sharp increase in cases after a large decrease following a delta variant-driven wave, Zink said.

The delta variant currently makes up 99.9% of the roughly 300 cases the state’s virology lab processes for genetic sequencing each week, according to Jayme Parker, chief of the Alaska Public Health Laboratories.

The omicron variant is significantly different from previous variants — for example, it contains dozens of potentially troubling mutations — but the lab should still be able to detect it, Parker said.

[Biden administration focuses on booster shots as best strategy against new coronavirus variant]

State health officials also noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now say anyone 18 and older who is six months after their last dose of an MRNA vaccine or two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot should get the booster.

Alaska health officials continue to emphasize the importance of vaccination.

“We’re really asking Alaskans to continue doing everything they can to slow down COVID in general,” Zink said. “And we know that the more people are vaccinated, the more protection we have, the less chance of variants, the less chance of spreading, the healthier we all are.”

New COVID-19 cases in Alaska have declined significantly in recent days after high levels during the fall. The state reported 380 cases Saturday, 242 Sunday and 108 Monday. The state also reported an additional death over the weekend: a Wrangell man in his 60s. So far, 848 Alaska residents and 30 non-residents have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Of those hospitalized across the country, about 8.3% had active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, a much smaller proportion compared to one-fifth or more of all patients who became COVID-positive in September and October mention.

[WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk]

Alaska was ranked 16th among the states for the number of cases per 100,000 residents last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our cases are dropping quite a bit here in Alaska, which is really good news,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin at Monday’s press conference.

South Africa also had a spate of cases that recently disappeared, McLaughlin said. And in that country, the new variant will become the more dominant variant compared to delta.

Still, it’s too early to say what will happen in Alaska with the new variant, he said.

“But we do look at what’s happening in other countries and other states to help predict what we’re going to see here in Alaska,” he said. “And I think we’ll be able to give you a better picture of that in the coming days and weeks.”


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