Alaska News

Health workers ‘terrified’ of what’s ahead, Anchorage doctor says, as state reports 462 new coronavirus infections Friday

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Alaska reported 462 new COVID-19 cases but no deaths Friday, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

As of Friday, there were 118 patients with COVID-19 in health facilities across the state, including 15 on ventilators. An additional 14 hospitalized people were suspected to have COVID-19.

Dr. Benjamin Westley, an infectious disease doctor who treats COVID-19 patients in Anchorage, said in an interview this week that the number of people hospitalized with serious COVID-19 far outweighs even the worst flu seasons of his career.

COVID-19 patients make up close to a fifth of some Anchorage hospitals, Westley said.

“That’s a massive, massive number.”

And since hospitalizations lag behind positive tests by up to four weeks, the worst may be yet to come, he said.

“That’s why we’re all so terrified,” Westley said.

In Anchorage, where more than 2,500 cases were reported in the last week, health officials on Friday expressed continuing concern about the rate of virus spread in the state’s largest city.

Nearly one in five emergency room visits in Anchorage are now COVID-related, they said.

“It’s important to remember that the daily case counts only represent only a fraction of the total burden of COVID in Anchorage,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer with the Anchorage Health Department.

Chandler encouraged people to “think carefully” about hosting or attending a Thanksgiving gathering this week, to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus to loved ones.

“Even people with no symptoms may have high levels of virus, and may be highly infectious,” he said.

[’We will not allow hospitals to become overrun’: Anchorage mayor warns COVID-19 trends aren’t sustainable without new mandates]

In total, 100 Alaskans with COVID-19 and one nonresident have died. Alaska’s overall death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country but has been rising.

Of the 459 new cases reported in Alaska residents, there were 227 in Anchorage, plus 10 in Chugiak, 12 in Eagle River and two in Girdwood; one in Anchor Point; seven in Homer; 13 in Kenai; one in Nikiski; two in Seward; nine in Soldotna; one in Sterling; 10 in Kodiak; one in Valdez; 23 in Fairbanks; six in North Pole; 14 in Delta Junction; nine in Palmer; 35 in Wasilla; one in Nome; five in Utqiagvik; nine in Kotzebue; two in Juneau; three in Sitka; and nine in Bethel.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that are not named to protect privacy, there were two in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; four in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; five in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two in the Nome Census Area; one in the North Slope Borough; 17 in the Bethel Census Area; one in Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula; five in the Dillingham Census Area; and four in the Kusilvak Census Area.

Another three cases were reported in nonresidents, all in unidentified regions of the state.

[Mat-Su schools will shift to remote learning next week because of staff shortages and maxed-out contact tracers]

While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department only represents one person.

Of the new cases, it is not reported how many patients were showing symptoms when they tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.

In total, 26,544 Alaska residents and nonresidents living in Alaska have tested positive for the virus since March.

The state’s testing positivity as of Friday was 7.76% over a seven-day rolling average. A positivity rate over 5% can indicate high community transmission and not enough testing, health officials have said.

State health officials say the rise in cases is causing contact tracing efforts to be strained statewide, and ask those who test positive to reach out to their own close contacts.

Close contacts should then quarantine for two weeks even if they’re not showing any symptoms, and even if they receive negative test results during that time. If asymptomatic, close contacts are encouraged to get tested about a week after their potential exposure; if symptomatic, get tested right away.