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Infectious Disease

Alaska’s COVID-19 Alert Levels

What are Alaska's current alert levels by region?

 

 Explore the COVID-19 alert levels map

 

Note: Alaska-specific rates by region are available on the DHSS COVID-19 dashboard in the summary tables (geographic distribution of case rates).

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) has defined three statewide alert levels to help communicate the risk of COVID-19 community transmission. These were originally established as part of the plan to reopen long-term care facilities to visitors. Governor Dunleavy has providedPDFlocal mitigation guidance for communities based on the alert levels.

The levels are based on per capita incidence. Specifically, DHSS calculates the number of new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents per day averaged over the past 14 days in each region. The reason for doing this is to focus on trends, not daily case counts. Averaging the per capita incidence of COVID-19 over 14 days will reduce the influence of day-to-day fluctuations in the number of cases identified in a community. DHSS strongly encourages focusing on trends and patterns over time, rather than the number of cases on any given day.

How accurate is this system at detecting the risk of transmission?

The average daily incidence per 100,000 people is a useful metric because it is the single measure that most directly reflects how widespread the virus  is in a community; however, no one measure can fully capture the complex dynamics of the COVID-19 epidemic in Alaska. For example, other factors that may be considered include the extent to which cases occurring in the community have a known source of infection, the percentage of tests that are positive in the community, and whether the trajectory of COVID-19 in Alaska is increasing or decreasing.

Additional limitations  

  • COVID incidence levels will likely differ somewhat between communities within a given region.
  • A large outbreak in a well-contained setting would increase the average daily per capita incidence,but may not pose as much risk to the general population.
  • In many people, COVID-19 causes no symptoms or only very mild symptoms. While DHSS strongly encourages all people with even mild symptoms to get tested and is continually working to increase access to testing, it is likely that many cases of COVID-19 remain undetected.
  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 appear on the data dashboard as cases. Each case is assigned to a region based on the individual’s residency, which may not correspond to where the person was infected or where they spent time while infectious. Cases among non-Alaska residents are not reflected in the Alert Levels. While DHSS closely monitors the number of cases identified in non-Alaska residents, cases among residents are a more meaningful indicator of the extent of transmission in a community and statewide.

How were these levels developed?

These community transmission levels were originally developed to inform decisions about allowing visitors to long-term care facilities. However average daily per capita incidence may inform decision making in other sectors as well, such as communities, schools, institutions of higher education, and businesses.

Importantly, decisions about whether to open or close an institution cannot be made solely on epidemiological grounds. These decisions inherently entail complex tradeoffs and judgements about a community’s unique vulnerability to COVID-19, such as socioeconomic factors, household composition and disability, minority status and language, housing type and transportation, and healthcare infrastructure. All of these factors may need to be considered when making such decisions.

With regards to long-term care facilities, please note that policies dictated by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or the State of Alaska may establish a minimum standard visitor policy, but facilities may elect to take a more conservative approach.

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