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State data showed that eight of the newly reported deaths involved residents of Anchorage, along with three people from Fairbanks, one from Delta Junction, three from Wasilla, one from Sitka, one from a smaller community in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon region, one from the Kusilvak Census Area and one from the Dillingham Census Area. The 20th death involved a nonresident in Fairbanks, according to state data.

“We had one (death) that occurred as far back as December. A fair number had occurred in February, and then some in March,” said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state, during a call with members of the media on Thursday.

Reviewing death certificates to confirm cause of death is a lengthy process that involves a weekslong delay between when a death occurs and when it’s reported by the state. It takes around nine days for a death to be registered, and then up to three weeks for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to code and classify those deaths. CDC specialists rely on cause of death noted by a medical professional to certify each death.

This reporting process has been in place for decades and is considered the most accurate way COVID-19 deaths are tracked, health officials have said.

“Some folks have a pretty complicated medical history and disease course,” Castrodale said Thursday. “That’s why for some of these deaths, we do wait for the death certificate review to have been completed” before counting a death as a COVID-19 death, she explained.

Although case counts and hospitalizations in Alaska remain below what they were during a peak in November and December, the state’s average daily case rate has been increasing in recent weeks. Most regions in the state are still in the highest alert category based on their current per capita rate of infection.

Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to wear face coverings in public, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent further spread.

Alaska in March became the first state in the country to open vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older who lives or works in the state. You can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up for a vaccine appointment; new appointments are added regularly. The phone line is staffed 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

By Thursday, 288,731 people — about 47% of Alaskans eligible for a shot — had received at least their first dose. At least 232,392 people — about 39% of Alaskans 16 and older — were considered fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard.

By Thursday, there were 39 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, far below a peak in late 2020 but part of a slight increase over the last few weeks.

Of the 185 cases reported among Alaska residents, there were 54 in Anchorage, plus four in Chugiak, nine in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; 54 in Wasilla; 20 in Palmer; 12 in Fairbanks; eight in Soldotna; four in North Pole; three in Kenai; two in Willow; two in Big Lake; two in Seward; one in Valdez; one in Delta Junction; one in Sutton Alpine; one in Sitka; one in Wrangell; one in Dillingham; and one in Chevak.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that aren’t named to protect privacy, there was one in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough and one in the Kusilvak Census Area.

There were also nine new cases among nonresidents: two in Anchorage, one in Wasilla, one in Juneau, four in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula area and one in an unidentified region of the state.

While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.

The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.

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