COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alaska surpass 200 as health facilities prepare for the worst


More than 200 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alaska, setting new record as health care executives issue dire warnings and say state hospitals are standing still.

State hospitals and intensive care units continued to report at or near full capacity as of Thursday as an increase due to the highly contagious Delta variant continues in Alaska. Facilities have reported staff shortages and limited bed capacity as their main concern, and say they don’t know how long they can continue to operate under such high stress levels.

“Emergency departments remain open for emergency life-sustaining treatment, but they are very tight,” Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska, said on a call with reporters .

Alaska health officials have started conversations with providers in other states, including northern Idaho, who posted this week standards of care in crisis, a tool that “allows clinicians to think about how they can do the most good for the most people” with limited resources, Zink explained.

Crisis care standards are seen as a last resort because they often force healthcare providers to make tough decisions about how to ration care – and Alaska is doing everything possible to avoid this scenario, Zink and others said Thursday.

“Every day we develop a new plan,” said Dr. Mishelle Nace, a doctor from Fairbanks on the call who described an ever-evolving approach to providing care, even with limited resources. “Every day we see where do we need help, where can we place people, where can we give more needs where it is needed.”

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Hospitals in Anchorage are especially full right now, said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and it’s putting pressure on outlying hospitals. Hospitals like Mat-Su Regional in Palmer, Central Peninsula in Soldotna and Fairbanks Memorial are particularly affected by COVID-19 cases, Kosin said.

The ability to transfer patients from rural areas to outlying hospitals as Anchorage continues to be full is drastically diminished, if not exhausted, he said.

“The window to be able to move to a higher level of care is getting smaller and smaller,” Kosin said.

As the increase continues, Kosin said the health care system will not collapse and patients will not be turned away, but he said care will end up being rationed and prioritized if the state continues on its path. current launch.

“And that’s the scariest scenario of all, because then you put healthcare professionals in the position of having to make the toughest choices anyone can be asked to make. … Everything is going in this direction. Whether we get there or not is yet to be determined, ”Kosin said.

The last count of hospitals showed a new record of 206 people hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus statewide, including 29 people on ventilators. In Mat-Su, nearly half of all hospitalizations were related to the coronavirus, and in Fairbanks, about a third were related to COVID-19, according to state data.

The latest tally is up from the 197 reported Thursday and more than double what it was about a month ago when Alaskan hospital executives first sounded the alarm on the impact potential of the delta variant on a limited health system.

Hospitals say these numbers are an underestimate of the true impact of COVID-19, as they do not include some long-term COVID-19 patients who are no longer positive but still require hospital care.

The state’s overall hospital capacity went on high alert for the first time on Thursday after several hospitals in the state continued to report extremely high volumes of COVID-positive and non-COVID patients.

The state also reported 846 new cases of the virus Thursday, 809 involving Alaskans and 37 non-residents, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services. dashboard. Thursday’s new case total marks the second-highest single-day tally reported for Alaska so far, and follows Wednesday’s equally high number of 841 cases.

“The difference is delta, and how quickly it can move from person to person,” Zink said.

Even with cases and hospitalizations showing little sign of slowing down, leaders in the city of Anchorage – where the level of spread of the virus often influences COVID-19 trends in the state – have refused to enact measures to more stringent mitigation in the event of a pandemic. In an interview this week, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said he will not ask residents to get vaccinated, will issue a mask warrant or order further COVID-19 restrictions, calling the idea of ​​a mask warrant “highly inappropriate.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said this week he would not declare a statewide COVID-19 disaster, although he has proposed two alternative bills that could help secure more resources for the State.

Alaska’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has slowly increased recently after months of peaking. More vaccinations were given in August than in July, Zink said.

Last winter, when COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Alaska led the country in vaccines administered per capita. In summer, the state had fallen behind.

So far, 56% of all Alaskans aged 12 and over are considered fully immunized and 61.5% have received at least one dose.

No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported on Thursday. A total of 442 Alaskans and 14 non-residents have died from complications from the virus since the pandemic hit Alaska in March 2020.

The state’s average seven-day test positivity rate – positive tests out of the total taken – was 8.8%, a near-record high. Health officials say anything over 5% indicates the need for more testing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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