Alaska reported another record of hospitalizations among people with COVID-19 over the weekend and one virus-related death as a week-long flare-up linked to the highly infectious delta variant continued.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital also reported two new deaths in people infected with the virus on Monday. Fairbanks and the North Pole are seeing a high number of COVID-19 cases, with 175 cases reported on Friday alone.
The state has reported the death of an Anchorage man aged 80 or older. As of March 2020, 445 Alaskans and 14 out-of-state residents have died from COVID-19, a total that does not yet include the two Fairbanks deaths.
A combination of staffing shortages, high overall admissions levels and a crush of COVID-19 patients are pushing state hospitals to the edge of what the system can handle and continue to provide care, providers say medical and health officials.
[Alaska’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are at pandemic highs. Here’s what that number really reflects.]
State data released on Monday showed 210 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized in the state on Sunday, more than half of them in Anchorage. That’s slightly up from Thursday’s record set of 208. Virus-related hospitalizations have increased by more than 1,200% since late June, when there were just two dozen COVID-positive patients at a time. .
Hospitals say these numbers are likely an underestimate of the true impact of COVID-19, as they do not include some long-term COVID-19 patients who are no longer positive but are still in need of hospital care.
On Monday, the Municipality of Anchorage did not report any intensive care unit beds available in the city, although that data could change quickly.
Some critical care nurses treat twice as many patients than they normally do, health officials said late last week: Instead of one nurse for two patients, many are treating three or four .
Last week, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital began reconfiguring three meeting rooms for patient care as an “emergency response to massive wave of COVID and critical staff shortage,” according to an email by Kelly Atlee Hospital spokesperson. Patients staying there would likely need less intensive care. The hospital also transformed a day room into a nursing unit to accommodate five beds.
The hospital cannot use the Carlson Center arena for alternative care, as Alaska does not have an active emergency declaration to allow this use. Staffing the center would have been a challenge anyway, Atlee said.
“This space will be used in case we are essentially running out of space to provide care,” she wrote.
At the end of last week, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation declared an emergency due to the influx of patients and residents to the area with COVID-19. During the previous week, there were 83 new cases in the region.
The statement, which is expected to last a few weeks depending on levels of transmission in the community, allows the healthcare company to reassign workers from other positions to help ease pressure on Kanakanak’s 16-room intensive care hospital in Dillingham, according to spokesperson Jennifer De Winne.
“We were just full of patients and we were struggling with a little staff,” said De Winne, adding that the statement also serves to alert the community to the severity of the pandemic there.
Last week, the hospital had seven patients – four with COVID-19, she said.
Most COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state are not vaccinated, statistics show. During the last week of August, 81% of hospitalized patients positive for COVID and 85% of those in intensive care were not vaccinated, according to the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. Seventeen of the 18 COVID-19 patients on ventilators have not been vaccinated.
As of Monday, 61.8% of eligible Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 56.5% were fully immunized, state data showed. After assuming the title of most vaccinated state earlier this year, Alaska ranked 35th per capita on Monday.
The state reported a total of 1,473 new cases in Alaska during the three-day period over the weekend, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services dashboard: 784 residents and 26 non-residents on Friday; 370 residents and 13 non-residents on Saturdays; and 277 residents and three non-residents on Sunday. Of the resident cases, Anchorage accounted for 499, Fairbanks at 197 and Wasilla at 124.
Other areas are also seeing higher numbers of infections, including the Borough of North Slope and the Mat-Su communities of Wasilla and Palmer, which accounted for a quarter – 90 out of 370 – of the cases reported on Saturday, according to data from the state.
State officials say the still high number of new cases is causing delays in testing and contact tracing, two strategies used to limit the spread of the virus.
On Monday, the state’s average seven-day test positivity rate – the number of positive tests out of the total performed – was 9.25%, a near record since the start of the pandemic. Health officials say anything over 5% indicates a need for more testing.