Alaska's COVID-19 Alert Levels

What are Alaska's current alert levels by borough/census area?

Reported cases per 100,000 persons in the last 7 days: High/red - over 100, substantial/orange - 50-99.99, moderate/yellow 10-49.99, low/blue - 0-9.99

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

The alert levels are based on per capita incidence of COVID-19 in the past 7 days among Alaska residents, and are similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 community transmission indicator (CDC COVID Data Tracker). DHSS calculates the number of reported cases of COVID-19 over the past 7 days per 100,000 residents in each borough or census area, using 2020 population estimates from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Boroughs with fewer than 1000 residents are combined with a neighboring borough or census area to protect individuals' privacy. DHSS encourages focusing on trends and patterns over time, rather than the number of cases on any given day.

These alert levels and the CDC community transmission indicator differ in that the alert levels are based solely on reported cases and do not consider the percentage of SARS-CoV-2 tests which are positive. Additionally, the levels on the DHSS COVID-19 dashboard may not exactly match CDC's COVID Data Tracker due to technical differences in data sources, update procedures, and population estimates.

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

The weekly incidence per 100,000 people is a useful metric because it directly reflects how widespread the virus is in a community relative to its population size; 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, the vaccination coverage in that area, and whether the trajectory of COVID-19 in Alaska is increasing or decreasing.

Reported incidence rates based on fewer than 20 cases are statistically imprecise and should be interpreted with caution. Community sources, such as local governments and health leaders may provide more information on COVID-19 risk using community-specific indicators based on local circumstances and more detailed information about local cases.

Additional limitations  

  • COVID-19 incidence levels may differ between communities within a given borough or census area. This is especially likely to occur in geographically large boroughs or census areas that consist of multiple distinct communities.
  • A large outbreak in a well-contained setting would increase the per capita incidence but may not pose as much risk to the general population.
  • COVID-19 outbreaks can expand rapidly and occur with little or no warning. A low alert level for a borough or census area does not necessarily mean COVID-19 risk is negligible in that community. An imported case could quickly lead to an outbreak.
  • In boroughs and census areas with small populations, a small number of cases are sufficient to raise the alert level and may not indicate community transmission. For example, in borough or census area with 10,000 residents, a cluster of 5 cases of COVID-19 in a single household would raise the alert level to orange.
  • 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, many cases of COVID-19 likely go undetected.
  • Each case is assigned to a borough or census area based on the patient'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.
  • Decisions about whether to open or close an institution cannot be made solely on epidemiological grounds. These decisions inherently entail complex tradeoffs and judgements that account for a community's vulnerability to COVID-19, which may be influenced by factors including household composition and disability, minority status and language, housing type and transportation, and healthcare infrastructure.

How have the alert levels been modified?

In August 2021, DHSS switched from a three-level system to a four-level system to better align with CDC's levels. The orange level previously corresponded to at least 5 but less than 10 cases per 100,000 persons per day on average, whereas the new orange level corresponds to about 7 to about 14 cases per 100,000 persons per day on average. Additionally, DHSS previously calculated alert levels by averaging the number of reported cases over the past 14 days, whereas the current alert levels are based on the reported number of cases over the past 7 days. This approach makes the alert level more sensitive to recent changes in the number of reported COVID-19 cases.

Alert levels are now calculated for all boroughs and census areas (with at least 1000 residents); previously, alert levels were presented by regions. Using boroughs and census areas provides more locally relevant information. Because some boroughs and census areas have small populations, the level may fluctuate frequently and may not reflect community transmission. However, each of the five most-populous boroughs was considered its own region, so the change to calculating alert levels by borough and census area is not a substantive change for these locations.