This past summer, Alaska recorded some of the fewest coronavirus cases per capita in the nation. Credit isolation and wide-open spaces. But officials had also done more testing than almost every other state and then tracked every person who came back positive with an army of contact tracers.
Now, as temperatures begin dipping back below freezing, the virus has seized new opportunities.
Alaska’s struggles provide an early warning that winter could bring the most devastating phase of the pandemic. On Friday, the weekly case average in the state reached its highest point of the year.
Along with cold-season gatherings moving into more confined spaces, there is evidence that the coronavirus is more virulent in colder weather and lower relative humidities.
The state also faces some particular challenges, with officials fearing outbreaks in remote villages. Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, described one small community with no running water that is currently dealing with an outbreak, and weather has prevented officials from getting supplies in.
One of the challenges that Dr. Zink has consistently faced is convincing residents to wear masks and stay distanced. In May, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy lifted statewide restrictions, he left decisions about how to manage the pandemic to local jurisdictions.
In the town of Wasilla over the weekend, people gathered at a bar for an Oktoberfest celebration. While the outdoor seating offered views of snow-capped mountains, the weather was near freezing, so people crowded inside, where no one was wearing masks.
And at a youth hockey tournament this month in Anchorage, videos showed some parents watching from the stands without masks. When the tournament was over, the Anchorage Health Department announced it was investigating a “cluster” of cases linked to the games.
In other developments around the United States:
The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s parade — held annually in Washington, D.C., during March or April and often considered the first sign of spring in the region — has been canceled for 2021 because of virus concerns. The organization that runs the event said plans for the festival will proceed “but with changes due to ongoing restrictions caused by Covid-19.”