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Alaska reports over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases, surpassing daily record

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 12:54 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2021 at 5:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska broke another COVID-19 case count record on Wednesday after reporting the highest number of cases in a single day.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 1,068 new COVID-19 cases among Alaska residents, as well as 27 new cases among nonresidents, bringing the total to 1,095. The state has not seen numbers reported in a single day this high since late last year.

While the state has reported high case count numbers recently in their weekend roundups that are sent out on Mondays, Wednesday’s case count surpasses the state’s previous single-day record of 933 confirmed cases, which was reported on Dec. 5, 2020. Of those, 908 were among Alaska residents.

The state also reported two additional deaths, according to the health department’s coronavirus data hub. On Tuesday, 451 resident deaths were reported, but the dashboard shows there are now 453 as of Wednesday.

Both deaths were recent, according to the state health department. They were two Anchorage men, one in his 70s and one in his 60s.

The spike in confirmed cases comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high and the surge largely spurred by the highly contagious delta variant continues. On Tuesday, Alaska’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, announced it was using efforts to prioritize treatment and resources for the patients who have the potential to most benefit from them due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The rationing of care was instituted because the hospital is experiencing demands on acute care that are exceeding its capacity, according to a statement from the hospital.

The state’s hospital data dashboard on Wednesday showed that, as of Tuesday, there were at least 201 people being hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide. It also showed that as of Tuesday, there were just four adult ICU beds left open in Anchorage.

Dozens of medical professionals, including physicians, attended Tuesday night’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, describing the situation being faced inside Providence and pleading with the public to implement mitigation measures like wearing masks. They also encouraged people to avoid potentially dangerous activities that could lead to injuries that would require care in a hospital.

“I’m here outside of my usual time at the hospital to tell you, it is not good for all of you,” said Dr. Leslie Gonsette, a physician at Providence. “For our entire community, not just COVID patients. We have to have everyone realize that isn’t just the unvaccinated. This is your child getting in a car wreck, this is you going to work and getting ran over on your bike. You will not get the care that you deserve. It is happening.”

Dr. Ryan Webb told the assembly Tuesday night that out of 223 adult beds at Providence, one was out of service because of a leak and two were unstaffed. All other beds were fully staffed. Webb said that as of Tuesday night there were 10 people waiting in the emergency department for a bed, three of which needed an ICU beds.

“I would just briefly respond to the suggestion that we should not be afraid,” Webb said during the meeting. “I would say that we are terrified as physicians and nurses. What we’re terrified of is being faced with two, or three or four patients and not having the resources that we need to take care of them.

“That is not why any of us went into these jobs,” Webb continued. “We thought that we were going to be working in hospitals in the developed country that had the resources we need to do the job that we’re trained for, and we’re now in a situation where we don’t have that. And it’s very frightening to us, because we got into this job to take care of patients. That is why we’re afraid.”

According to a statement sent via email, Alaska Native Medical Center has not “formally made the decision” to implement the crisis standards of care being used at Providence, but the hospital noted that resources there are limited, too.

The ongoing increase in COVID-19 patients at Alaska Native Medical Center, which the statement described as “mostly unvaccinated,” require a higher level of care, according to the statement.

“This means that patients who present for care at the hospital should expect a departure from the usual standard of care that we strive to deliver,” the statement reads. “This may include longer wait times, rescheduled elective surgeries and the use of alternate care sites.”

The hospital has begun shifting staffing and resources to meet patient needs on a daily and sometimes hourly bases, according to the statement. The hospital said its health care workers need help and asked the public to consider getting vaccinated and to wear masks and practice hand washing.

Alaska Regional Hospital, another major Anchorage medical facility, said via email Wednesday that it also has not yet implemented crisis standards of care. While the hospital is currently operating at capacity, spokesperson Kjerstin Lastufka said in an email that it still has the ability to care for patients.

“However, to meet the increasing healthcare needs of our community and state, we are reviewing and modifying our surgery schedule on a daily basis to prioritize the most critical cases,” she wrote. “This may include rescheduling or postponing certain procedures based on the urgency of the procedure, the judgement of our physician partners, and the current circumstances within our facility and community.”

According to the emailed statement, Alaska Regional Hospital will also convene a Crisis Care Committee this week to monitor its status and “plan future reviews.” The committee was created before the pandemic, and it meets when necessary to develop plans for when there are surges in patients with regard to the supplies and staffing the hospital has. The committee also develops plans for the possible need to transition from “conventional standards of care” to standards of care when critical care resources within the hospital are lacking, and it needs resources from outside.

Using more forceful rhetoric than he has previously in the pandemic, Gov. Mike Dunleavy “strongly” urged Alaskans to get the vaccine on Tuesday.

The state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard shows that just over 47% of all Alaskans are fully vaccinated. That includes children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The data show that 56.7% of eligible Alaskans age 12 and older are now fully vaccinated, and that 62% have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough remain the two least vaccinated major regions in the state, according to vaccine data.

Of the 1,095 total cases reported Wednesday, 1,068 of them were identified among Alaska residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 472
  • Fairbanks: 129
  • Wasilla: 80
  • Juneau: 57
  • Eagle River: 50
  • Bethel Census Area: 32
  • North Pole: 29
  • Palmer: 28
  • Kenai: 24
  • Homer: 19
  • Soldotna: 19
  • Chugiak: 14
  • Seward: 9
  • Bethel: 7
  • Dillingham: 7
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough: 7
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 7
  • Delta Junction: 6
  • Utqiagvik: 6
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 6
  • Ketchikan: 5
  • Anchor Point: 4
  • Big Lake: 3
  • Girdwood: 3
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 3
  • Kodiak: 3
  • Matanuska-Susitna Borough: 3
  • Southeast Fairbanks Census Area: 3
  • Healy: 2
  • North Slope Borough: 2
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 2
  • Petersburg: 2
  • Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area: 2
  • Sitka: 2
  • Tok: 2
  • Aleutians East Borough: 1
  • Bristol Bay/Lake and Peninsula: 1
  • Cordova: 1
  • Denali Borough: 1
  • Dillingham Census Area: 1
  • Douglas: 1
  • Hooper Bay: 1
  • Houston: 1
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough South: 1
  • Kodiak Island Borough: 1
  • Kotzebue: 1
  • Nikiski: 1
  • Nome Census Area: 1
  • Salcha: 1
  • Skagway: 1
  • Sterling: 1
  • Sutton-Alpine: 1
  • Valdez: 1
  • Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon: 1

The state also identified 27 additional nonresident COVID-19 cases on Wednesday throughout the state.

Also on Wednesday, the Arctic Slope Native Association reported that, as of noon, the association was notified of 44 new COVID-19 cases in the region they cover. Of those, 30 are Utqiagvik residents and 14 are residents of other North Slope communities. There are 231 active cases in the Arctic Slope region alone, the association reported.

Over the course of the pandemic, the state has conducted more than 2.89 million COVID-19 tests, and currently has a seven-day average positivity rate of 9.62%. This is the highest Alaska’s rate of positivity has been since the pandemic began here. The previous high was 9.31% in November 2020.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional information

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