As the temperature drops, Alaska’s COVID-19 cases rise.
Health officials said that while Alaska had successfully experienced an influx in late July, this time it felt different. That is partly due to changing seasons: As the temperature drops, the Alaskans spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads easily.
“Autumn and winter, I worry, will be difficult,” Drs. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, in a call to reporters last week. “This is to test the stability of Alaska.”
Last week, Alaska set a record for the latest coronavirus infections in a single day, and last Friday, the average percentage of back-positive tests climbed above 5% for the first time. Daily case counts are in the triple digits for more than three weeks, and above all communities across the state are found to have the highest alert category, defined as more than 10 cases per 100,000 people.
While state data shows hospital capacity remains stable, and the state’s per capita mortality rate remains among the lowest in the country, state health officials have expressed concern about the rapid increasing cases leading to winter.
This is a problem that will not go away any time soon, especially in Alaska. The days will be shorter and colder.
“In the summer, when people see (cases) going up, there is a conscious effort to do a lot of things outside and farther away,” said Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist in the Department of Anchorage Health.
“Even on Labor Day, we didn’t see any spikes associated with it that I was worried about. But now as it passes, the days get shorter, it cools down and there is a lot of mixing inside. And I feel that the big driver, ”Johnston said.
A major challenge heading into winter is changing the nature of how the virus spreads, state health officials said.
In response, state and local officials last week questioned the success of “social bubbles,” small friend-and-family groups that some Alaskans remain as a way to stay sober and safe to socialize.
Bubbles only work if they are adhered to relatively strictly, Johnston said.
For some kids to go back to school and many adults to go back to work, it’s very hard to do.
“It’s easier to make the bubble while‘ hunker down, ’if people really stay home,” he said. “But we have a lot of activity going on,” he added, noting that many of the clusters in Anchorage are tied to small groups of family and friends.
‘We hear a lot of people say,’ My bubble is safe, ‘”Zink said. But your bubble is connected to another bubble, which is connected to another bubble. And so it just spreads from bubble to bubble. We used to think of a large fire hose, but I think we would just take buckets of COVID and spread it from one small group to another. “
“I think it’s OK if you can really implement that bubble,” Johnston said. “But I think it’s getting stronger and harder to do that.”
As the Alaskans go indoors, another major concern is how to make the interior spaces as safe as possible, and the role of ventilation systems plays a role in reducing transmission.
While the novel coronavirus mainly spreads through close contact between people indoors, new evidence suggests the virus is also spread more than 6 feet through airborne transmission, Centers said. for Disease Control and Prevention with guidelines updated last week.
This risk can be minimized by ensuring that homes and commercial buildings have some sort of ventilation strategy in place, said Jack Hebert, founder and former CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks.
“In warmer areas, opening doors and windows and access to outdoor air just washes the house, and you are more likely to pick up a virus contained there,” he said. “In Alaska (in the winter), we don’t do that.”
Instead, there are many other methods that people in Alaska use to ventilate their homes, Hebert said, emphasizing that it is important for Alaskans to always pay attention to their ventilation systems – COVID- 19 or not – for general health and safety reasons.
But in terms of a ventilation system ability to filter out coronavirus, that is questionable, Hebert said.
“I do not want to take away the importance of commercial buildings, office buildings and homes of maintaining ventilation systems,” he said. “But we can’t filter out a virus like coronavirus with a ventilation system. You can provide more air, and healthier air. But an indoor environment will always be more of a concern than the outside . “
Ultimately, he said, having a proper ventilation system should be just a piece of the puzzle.
“Basically, keeping your little bubble, and taking care of the public, that’s what makes the most difference,” Hebert says.