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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention, the largest gathering of Indigenous people in the state, will be all virtual this year, organizers announced Friday.

The decision was made after federation leaders consulted with state federal and tribal health officials and reviewed current COVID-19 data trends, according to a statement.

The federation decided to go all-virtual out of concern for the safety of the thousands of people from across the state who normally attend in person, the statement said.

Organizers cited the continuing high rates of COVID-19, transmission, hospitalization and deaths, particularly in Anchorage, the statement said.

(Related: The modern treaty: protecting Alaska Native land, values)

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Alaska currently has the highest number of cases in the last seven days per 100,000 population among the 50 states, the state health department said Thursday in its weekly case update.

“The incidence of COVID-19 in the Municipality of Anchorage appears to have either plateaued or be increasing. Regardless of the trajectory, intense community transmission is continuing to occur and is causing significant illness, death, and demand on the health care system,” the report says.

“Safety is paramount to our decision,” said Sheri Buretta, chair of Alaska Federation of Natives convention committee, who also noted social distancing guidelines would be hard to meet during the convention, which was to have been held in the state's largest city.

“The situation in Anchorage has not improved nearly enough to risk the health of convention participants, particularly our elders and other vulnerable attendees, when hospitals across the state are under extreme pressure right now,” Buretta said.

The online convention will be held online Dec. 13-14.

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