Despite rising vaccination numbers, health experts fear fourth wave of COVID-19 in Anchorage

A nurse prepares doses of the Pfizer vaccine at a mass vaccination clinic at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage on March 24, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Despite vaccination rates that are higher than the state average, health officials in Anchorage are warning of a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

Last Monday, Anchorage reported 112 coronavirus cases, its highest daily case count since January. Health officials say that spring break-related travel in mid-March contributed to an uptick in cases over the past ten days, and Anchorage epidemiologist Janet Johnston said that organized sporting events have also contributed to higher case counts. The city eased restrictions on businesses and sporting events at the beginning of March.

Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris said the average 14-day case count is up almost 75% since last month.

COVID-19 trends in 2021. Screenshot from Anchorage Municipality COVID-19 Data Dashboard on March 31, 2021.

“It’s really concerning that, given the amount of vaccine coverage that we have in the community, and potential residual immunity from individuals being positive, that we that we’re still seeing this really strong increase of case counts overall,” she said.

Harris said the city’s vaccination effort is continuing, with a third of city residents vaccinated. The city has turned its focus to mobile and popup vaccine clinics for underserved areas and communities. But the effort isn’t going as fast as officials hoped.

“We are trying to in the spring time, really push vaccine so that when we come into the summer, we’re in a better space to be able to, for our tourists and for our industry to feel really confident and a safe space in coming into Alaska,” she said.

She said that getting life back to normal this summer in Anchorage will depend on residents deciding to get vaccinated and take other COVID-19 precautions.

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