We’re making this important information available without a subscription as a public service. But we depend on reader support to do this work. Please consider supporting independent journalism in Alaska, at just $1.99 for the first month of your subscription. 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 trending upward over the last few weeks. Many regions in the state are still in the highest alert category based on their current per capita rate of infection. A new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has been discovered in Alaska, according to a report released this week by the state health department. The B.1.351 strain has caused particular worry among epidemiologists because the new COVID-19 vaccines have less efficacy against it. So far, 75 cases of five coronavirus variants of concern have been identified through testing and sequencing efforts in Alaska, according to the latest weekly report from the state. 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 Wednesday, 261,525 people — about 43% of Alaskans eligible for a shot — had received at least their first dose, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard. At least 194,853 people — about 33% of Alaskans 16 and older — were considered fully vaccinated. By Wednesday, there were 44 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 217 cases reported in Alaska residents on Wednesday, there were 77 in Anchorage plus six in Chugiak, 17 in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; one in Homer; two Kenai; one in Nikiski; one in Seward; six in Soldotna; two in Sterling; six in Fairbanks plus three in North Pole; two in Delta Junction; one in Big Lake; 16 in Palmer; 54 in Wasilla; five in Juneau; one in Ketchikan; two in Sitka; and one in Dillingham. Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were two in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the Denali Borough; one in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon; and one in the Aleutians West Census Area. There were also six cases reported in nonresidents: one in Sikta; three in Juneau; and two in an unidentified regions 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.