Alaska Health leaders attribute latest spike in state to omicron

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - This week, State health leaders are seeing a dramatic rise in covid cases across the state, and say that testing data indicates that it is the COVID variant omicron.

    In a Media ECHO Thursday, they report that between 80% and 95% of cases in the past 5 days screened by state public health shows a link to omicron.

    According to Alaska Health Department data released Wednesday, 1,597 new people identified with COVID-19 in Alaska, in addition, 25,418 tests were also conducted in the previous seven days. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the previous seven days is 14.67%.

    Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, said there is a clear trend upwards.

    "We do have a lot of cases in the last few days that have been reported in and so are really anticipating a large jump in cases based on what we are initially seeing," she said. "I think it's pretty clear that Omicron is here and spreading quickly across the state of Alaska."

    State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said that in the positive tests public health has been screening, they have been looking for "s-gene target failure."

    "That's a good marker for Omicron if the particular test does come back positive for that target failure, and what we found over the past five days or so is anywhere from about 80 to 95% of the samples that are tested are coming back positive that target failure indicating that the vast, vast majority of cases are Omicron."

    Meanwhile, Dr. Zink noted that hospitalizations haven’t been the issue currently, rather, staffing at the hospitals is.

    "What has been good is our hospitalizations have not gone up," she said. "Continuing to meet with the hospitals regularly, their biggest concern at this time is just staffing, getting sick with the virus and being out, but continuing to work with them and making sure that they have the resources that they need and are able to support hospitals, and we'll continue to see, we've been seeing a nationally as well as internationally, not the same rate of hospitalization and severe illness with Omicron as we did with Delta."

    Dr. McLaughlin says that while the US, United Kingdom, and Canada are seeing case spikes, he expressed optimism because in South Africa - the place where the variant was first detected - is leveling out in cases.

    "Look at South Africa, their wave started back in the beginning of November about November 29th, and then they peaked at about December 18th. So it took them just over two weeks to peak and then followed by that they've seen a very substantial decrease in cases, and now you can see just most recently that kind of leveled off a little bit," he said. "But I think, you know, clearly South Africa was hit first by Omicron. And so if South Africa is a judge, or an indicator I should say, of what the rest of the world can expect, it appears as though the wave itself is going to be hopefully shorter than other waves that we've seen before."

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