5 deaths, 459 new COVID-19 cases reported for Alaska on Tuesday

Increasing COVID hospitalizations continue to stress hospital capacity
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 5:01 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2021 at 8:08 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Tuesday, the state of Alaska reported five more Alaska residents whose recent deaths were tied to COVID-19. The state also reported 459 new COVID-19 infections as hospitalizations continue to rise, stressing hospital capacity.

The five people who recently died were a Sitka woman in her 40s, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, as well as two Anchorage women in their 70s, an Anchorage woman in her 60s and an Anchorage woman in her 20s.

The City and Borough of Juneau also reported on Monday that the death of a Juneau woman who died Sunday was related to COVID-19.

In total, the state has now reported 400 COVID-19-related deaths of Alaska residents.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to rise this week, increasing stress on the state’s hospitals. On Tuesday, state data showed there are 132 people being hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide. That’s up from 123 people on Monday, and 116 people hospitalized with COVID-19 late last week.

Hospital administrators have repeatedly said their capacity is being strained by a combination of patients coming in with COVID-19, the return of elective procedures, staffing shortages and burnout. Mikal Canfield, spokesperson for Providence Alaska Medical Center, told Alaska’s News Source on Tuesday that the hospital had temporarily postponed elective surgeries on Monday and Tuesday.

“This was done to help reduce demands on staffing and reserve medical space for those in greatest need,” Canfield wrote in an email.

He said elective surgeries were expected to begin again on Wednesday. According to Canfield, capacity changes at Providence day to day and hour to hour, but he said over the past month high capacity “has become a regular occurrence.”

Of the 132 people currently being hospitalized with COVID-19, the state health department reported 15 of them are on ventilators. The state’s hospital data dashboard showed that as of Monday, there were six adult ICU beds still available in Anchorage.

Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, told Alaska’s News Source that as of Monday, there were two pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We can only sustain this so long,” Kosin said. “I don’t know when the breaking point is, but what I think is important for people to hear is we are functioning, in many ways, with a sense of normalcy. People walk around, things are carrying on. I cannot stress enough, if you go inside to a hospital environment — inside, you know, into an inpatient setting — what’s going on there is remarkable and it’s intense, and it’s really hard to sustain.”

Kosin again urged people to get vaccinated, saying higher vaccine rates among Alaskans is how the state can relieve the building pressure on its already fragile health care infrastructure.

“We can run at this pace right now. It’s like a sprint. But how long can you sprint for?” Kosin said. “A year and a half is a lot to ask for from frontline workers. So unless we kind of get our act together and take getting vaccinated seriously and can take mitigation measures seriously, I mean ... Oregon’s standing up field hospitals. Is that something we want to see here? I don’t think so.”

Many of Alaska’s new cases and hospitalizations are being driven by the highly contagious delta variant. The most recent Genomic Surveillance Situation Report from the Alaska Sequencing Consortium shows that the delta variant represented 97% of COVID-19 cases sequenced during the week that began July 18.

While Alaska is now seeing more cases of COVID-19 attributed to vaccine breakthrough, meaning the people were diagnosed with COVID-19 after completing their full vaccination series, the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in people who are not fully vaccinated. According to the most recent weekly case update from the state health department, 92% of cases, 94% of hospitalizations and 96% of deaths among Alaska residents between Jan. 1 and Aug. 7 were in people who were not fully vaccinated.

That means 8% of cases, 6% of hospitalizations and 4% of deaths during that time period were due to vaccine breakthrough.

Of the 459 new COVID-19 cases reported by the state Tuesday, 436 of them were identified among residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 118
  • Wasilla: 32
  • Soldotna: 23
  • Fairbanks: 20
  • Kenai: 19
  • Eagle River: 18
  • Ketchikan: 18
  • Juneau: 17
  • Homer: 16
  • Dillingham Census Area: 12
  • North Pole: 11
  • Haines: 10
  • Kotzebue: 10
  • Nome Census Area: 10
  • Valdez: 10
  • Chugiak: 9
  • Kodiak: 9
  • Palmer: 8
  • Seward: 8
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 7
  • Sitka: 7
  • Utqiagvik: 5
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 4
  • Matanuska-Susitna Borough: 3
  • Willow: 3
  • Bethel: 2
  • Ketchikan Gateway Borough: 2
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 2
  • Nikiski: 2
  • North Slope Borough: 2
  • Tok: 2
  • Aleutians East Borough: 1
  • Anchor Point: 1
  • Bethel Census Area: 1
  • Copper River Census Area: 1
  • Cordova: 1
  • Dillingham: 1
  • Douglas: 1
  • Ester: 1
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough: 1
  • Girdwood: 1
  • Hooper Bay: 1
  • Skagway: 1
  • Southeast Fairbanks Census Area: 1
  • Sterling: 1
  • Sutton-Alpine: 1
  • Wrangell: 1
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 1

The state also reported 23 additional nonresident COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — three in Anchorage, three in the Denali Borough, three in Juneau, three in Ketchikan, three in Wasilla, two in Sitka and one each in Girdwood, Haines, Kodiak, Seward, Unalaska and an unknown part of the state.

As of Tuesday, the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard shows that 59.3% of all Alaskans age 12 and older have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that more than 53% are now fully vaccinated. More than 75% of people 12 and older in Juneau are fully vaccinated, compared to 55.4% of people who are fully vaccinated in Anchorage.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough at 45.4% and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at 37.5% remain the two regions of the state with the lowest rates of vaccination.

The statewide alert level, which is based on the average daily case rate over the last seven days per 100,000 people, is still high. The health department reported the statewide case rate is 340 case per 100,000. The high alert level indicates widespread transmission of the virus. According to the health department, just four communities in the state have alert levels that are lower than “high”.

Since the pandemic began, the state has conducted more than 2.6 million COVID-19 tests, and currently has a seven-day average positivity rate of 6.79%.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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