Alaska reports 2 new deaths, continues to break COVID hospitalization records

Coronavirus(Associated Press)
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 6:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For the fourth consecutive day this week, Alaska broke its own record for the number of people being hospitalized at one time with COVID-19, and also reported two new COVID-19-related deaths of Alaska residents.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported two additional Alaska resident deaths related to COVID-19 on Friday. Both deaths were recent, according to the state health department, and bring the total number of resident deaths to 444, while 14 nonresidents have died with COVID-19 while in Alaska.

The two people who died recently were an Anchorage woman in her 40s and a man in his 70s from the Dillingham Census Area.

The state also reported 702 new COVID-19 infections on Friday.

By the end of the week, the state’s hospital data dashboard showed that as of Thursday, there were 208 people being hospitalized with COVID-19, more than at any other time in the pandemic. The state has broken this record every day this week that the health department has released new data, starting on Tuesday with 186 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

At the beginning of July, there were just 19 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide.

The hospital dashboard shows that, as of Thursday, there was only one adult ICU bed left open in Anchorage, and 13 available statewide. There are 27 people who are sick enough that they are on ventilators, the data show.

The increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations is putting significant strain on the state’s health care system, to the point where it’s becoming difficult to deliver care throughout that system, Alaska State Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association president and CEO Jared Kosin said this week. Anchorage hospitals have been and continue to be full with a combination of COVID-19 patients and other people needing care. Now, however, smaller hospitals outside Anchorage are starting to fill up, too. That makes it more difficult to transfer patients who need care, especially from rural areas, Kosin said Thursday.

“Our ability to respond is getting strangled essentially,” he said.

For the first time in the pandemic, Alaska’s hospitals and medical facilities were raised to the high alert level on Thursday, due to what Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said was the number of hospitals currently unable to accept additional patients.

She said hospital emergency departments remain open for life-sustaining treatment, “but they are very tight,” and she encouraged Alaskans to use other medical services for care, like urgent care facilities, to avoid adding to the burden on hospitals.

Kosin said state medical facilities are moving forward with the mentality that they need to prepare for the worst case scenario. If the state doesn’t get a break by reaching the peak of the COVID-19 surge soon, or if more people don’t start practicing more mitigation measures, Alaska could potentially be put in a position similar to that of states in the Lower 48, where health care workers are starting to make decisions about rationing care.

“It’s unnerving and it’s almost incomprehensible,” Kosin said.

This week, President Joe Biden announced new federal vaccine requirements for most federal workers and contractors, and for employers with more than 100 employees. Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson both made public statements against these mandates, saying they would reject them at the local level. However, Dunleavy in his statement said the vaccine is “the most effective way” to combat COVID-19, while Bronson said in his statement that the requirements do “not look at the science to getting to natural immunity.”

Leading health experts agree that reaching overall herd immunity in a population while the delta variant continues to spread is not likely.

The delta variant, highly contagious and infecting increasingly more people who are fully vaccinated, is largely driving Alaska’s COVID-19 surge. Still, data from the state health department shows that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in people who are not vaccinated.

A monthly report from the state Section of Epidemiology shows that, in the month of July, only about 19% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were vaccinated people. That means about 80% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in July were unvaccinated people.

Of the 702 new COVID-19 cases reported Friday, 677 of them were identified among Alaska residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 186
  • Fairbanks: 80
  • Wasilla: 72
  • Palmer: 43
  • Bethel Census Area: 40
  • North Pole: 34
  • Eagle River: 26
  • Kenai: 19
  • Soldotna: 16
  • Utqiagvik: 13
  • Bethel: 11
  • Delta Junction: 11
  • Juneau: 10
  • Copper River Census Area: 9
  • Nome Census Area: 9
  • Ketchikan: 7
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 7
  • Homer: 6
  • North Slope Borough: 6
  • Seward: 6
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 6
  • Anchor Point: 5
  • Kodiak: 5
  • Sutton-Alpine: 5
  • Big Lake: 4
  • Houston: 4
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 4
  • Ester: 3
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 3
  • Nikiski: 3
  • Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area: 3
  • Sitka: 3
  • Chevak: 2
  • Cordova: 2
  • Hooper Bay: 2
  • Sterling: 2
  • Willow: 2
  • Dillingham: 1
  • Dillingham Census Area: 1
  • Girdwood: 1
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough South: 1
  • Mat-Su Borough: 1
  • Metlakatla: 1
  • Tok: 1
  • Valdez: 1

The state also identified 25 additional nonresident COVID-19 cases throughout the state on Friday.

The health department’s vaccine monitoring dashboard shows that just over 56% of all eligible Alaskans age 12 and older are now fully vaccinated, and that 61.6% have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Juneau region remains the most highly vaccinated major region of the state, while the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough remain the two least vaccinated major regions, respectively.

Since the pandemic began, the state has conducted more than 2.84 million COVID-19 tests, and currently has a seven-day average positivity rate of 8.98%. That’s inching closer to the highest positivity rate the state has ever had in the pandemic, which was 9.31% during last winter’s surge.

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