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COVID-19 case surge in YK Delta worries health officials

Undated photo.
Undated photo.(KTUUU)
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 10:35 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As families — like that of Lucy Ivan, of Akiak — plead with Alaskans to follow health mandates and guidance, health officials are asking for the same as COVID-19 case counts rise to what they say are concerning levels, particularly in regions like the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“We want to do the best we can for every single patient that comes in front of us,” said Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges. “And I think people who say everyone’s going to get it anyway, just let everyone get it, that’s naive. It’s not informed. And it’s not scientific. We need to do everything we can to prevent the spread of it. It’s not too late.”

Like some other rural families, Ivan’s children and grandchildren had to deal not only with their grief but also with managing their loved one’s body after she passed, because of the pandemic. The unusual requirements come under unusual circumstances, but medical leaders across Alaska have expressed concern that incidents like this will become even more common.

“We certainly don’t want to scare anyone, but we’re at that point where we’re having to prepare medical staff,” said Tiffany Zulkosky, vice president of communications for YKHC. “This is the warning bell from the medical community that we’re having to prepare internally because the virus is not where it needs to be in terms of under control in Alaska.”

Hodges and Zulkosky said the YK Delta region is experiencing exponential growth in cases. More alarming, they said, is the rapidly rising rate of both hospitalizations and deaths.

YKHC recommended last week that the region be put into a month-long lockdown.

“We’re really trying to save that capacity,” Zulkosky said. “It’s not just how many ventilators or high flow oxygen machines are available. It’s how many nurses, how many respiratory therapists, how many providers are available in those systems to operate that specialty equipment.”

Even without sweeping measures, a reminder: small actions by individuals can make a big difference in helping to avoid overwhelming the health care system.

“We need people to pay attention to public health measures we’ve been recommending all along,” Hodges said. “We’ve gotta do something to flatten the curve, or we’re all going to suffer and not get the health care we deserve.

“I think people should think about it as, What if you need that ICU bed? What if you need that hospital bed? What if you need that oxygen?” she added. “We’re all in this together, interdependent on each other, and the pandemic has really brought that to the forefront.”

The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 462 new coronavirus cases Friday. More than 26,000 cases have been associated with Alaska, as well as more than 100 deaths.

Every region in the state of Alaska also remains in the high alert zone, which means at least 10 per 100,000 thousand people have tested positive each day for the past two weeks. In the YK Delta, that average sits at just over 148 positive cases per 100,000.

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