This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. nbsp; (NIAID-RML via AP)

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. nbsp; (NIAID-RML via AP)

New cases continue to surge in city, state

Nearly 800% increase in 7-day average for new case rate since July.

The rate of coronavirus transmission continues to rocket up as the delta variant now makes up more than 90% of new cases statewide

Thirty-four new cases were reported by the City and Borough of Juneau on Tuesday.

“You all are probably aware we’re in a little bit of a surge. A little bit is probably an understatement,” said CBJ emergency operations center incident commander Mila Cosgrove during a news conference. “Remember, we are in the middle of a pandemic, still. For a while it didn’t feel like we were.”

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Juneau currently has 144 active cases in the community.

“You might not care if you get sick, but if you’re COVID-positive it may spread and daisy chain its way to someone who can’t afford to,” Cosgrove said. “We had two deaths in the community this week.”

Kenai is currently the only community leading Juneau in the rate of new cases, said deputy city manager and EOC planning chief Robert Barr.

“We’re at a 6% positivity rate right now, which is higher than we would like to be,” Barr said during the conference. “That means there’s more cases of COVID in the community than we’re detecting.”

Statewide, confirmed case rates have skyrocketed.

“So far in August we’re at 15.65 new positive cases per day, more than double where we were in July,” Barr said. “We’re trending in the wrong way.”

Vaccination rates in Juneau continue to be a bright spot, said state clinical pharmacist Coleman Cutchins during the conference. 

“I want to thank you all down there for having such high vaccine rates,” Cutchins.said. “Since July first, there’s been a 792% increase in the 7-day average for COVID-19 cases.”

Vaccines continue to be the best asset against contracting or being seriously harmed or killed by the disease, Cutchins said.

“The best tool against infection is getting vaccinated. What people are looking at if they’re not going to get vaccinated is a very very high likelihood that they’re going to get infected with this virus,” Cutchins said. “Vaccine rate, you all are doing a pretty amazing job. Statewise, we’d be in a much different place if our state numbers looked like yours do.”

The much higher transmission rate of the delta variant is one of the main drivers of the spike, Cutchins said.

“The thing that’s really shocking here is that in a three-month period, delta wasn’t even on the map, to 20% of the cases, to 90% of the cases. It’s a lot more transmissible and it’s driving a lot of the number,” Cutchins said. “Most of the state is in the red. You in the Southeast are looking better than most of us, but there’s still some communities in the red.”

About 5,000 people in Juneau who are eligible to be vaccinated but have not done so, Barr said. Roughly 4,500 more are currently ineligible for reasons of age. Cutchins said the state is keeping an eye out for eligibility for vaccination to open up to children five years of age and older, saying that they’re expecting that authorization in approximately November. Cosgrove said that when booster shots are authorized for the immunocompromised, Juneau will move swiftly to administer them.

“As soon as it is authorized and it makes practical sense, we’ll respond and make it available,” Cosgrove said. “We’re aware and we’re tracking.”

No infectious disease, such as polio, the mumps, or measles was ever ended without societywide vaccination, Cutchins said. Without a vaccinated population, the virus will keep evolving and lingering. Variants of the virus that aren’t effectively deterred by vaccines could be the cause for a currently-unlikely reiteration of citywide lockdowns, Barr said.

“I think [another lockdown] is highly unlikely. The vaccine offers us a high level of protection for ourselves and our community,” Barr said. “If we saw variants that the vaccines were very ineffective against, which is not the case, that would be concerning.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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