Alaska’s COVID-19 case count, hospitalizations trending down

Alaska’s COVID-19 case count, hospitalizations trending down
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 7:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As mid-February approaches, data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows the state’s COVID-19 cases are trending down after January’s case count hit record high numbers with more than 62,000 cases reported throughout the month.

Despite lowering case numbers, Alaska is the state with the second-highest number of new COVID-19 cases over the last week, adjusted for population. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows the only state with a higher rate is Maine.

The omicron variant drove Alaska’s surge of new cases in January, and it continues to be the dominant variant, according to state health department data.

“What we’re seeing with omicron, is the disease itself is causing less severe disease, still causing hospitalizations and deaths, but to less severe disease,” said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink in an online forum on Feb. 9. “And more of the population has some degree of protection, either being vaccinated, and ideally boosted, or having previously had COVID-19.”

As Alaska continues to battle with omicron, state health department data show cases have been decreasing for three weeks.

In the same Feb. 9 forum, State Public Health Labs Chief Jayme Parker said health officials don’t know of any new variants.

“If we’re going to continue down the Greek alphabet, we haven’t heard of ‘pi’ or ‘rho’ or any of these other variants coming out,” she said. “We’re still dealing with omicron. But we are sort of diving more deeply into the genomics and finding out that there are variations of omicron.”

Parker said the BA.2 omicron variant, which state data shows has been found in Alaska, looks to be more transmissible than the version of the omicron variant that is widely circulating in the state.

Zink also said with omicron, Alaska isn’t seeing the same rate of hospitalization as previous surges, despite higher case counts.

Hospitalizations and deaths are said to be some of the most lagging indicators of the overall COVID-19 trend in a community.

“Hospitalizations are kind of the byproduct of being infected,” said Jared Kosin, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association president and CEO. “People would get sick first, and then it would take a certain amount of time for them to get severely acute enough to require an admission.”

As hospitalizations are showing a downward trajectory in Alaska, Kosin said when it comes to the state’s health care system as a whole, “we’re in much better shape today than we have been in a while.”

Kosin said these are the type of trends he was hoping for.

“But it’s important to know too, there are some spots that will hit their peak at different times,” he said. “And that can cause stress on hospital operations, especially in our rural communities.”

Kosin said that during the omicron surge, hospitalizations have been less of a concern, but the difficulty came as hospital staff called out sick due to getting COVID-19 or being exposed to it.

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