Alaska on Monday reported over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend as hospitalizations continued to rise, nearing levels not seen since the state’s worst surge in hospital admissions last winter.
The most confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations reported by the state at any time was 151 on Dec. 8.
A difference between now and last winter is the state’s health care system is burdened by non-COVID-related hospitalizations, burned-out staff and significant staffing shortages, health officials have said.
Over half of the state’s current coronavirus-related hospitalizations were concentrated in Anchorage, state data showed. Statewide, COVID-19 patients made up about 13% of all hospitalizations, and 12 patients were sick enough to be on ventilators.
Administrators continue to report that the latest surge in hospitalizations has involved patients that are generally younger and sicker than during previous surges, and that hospital capacity across the state has become increasingly strained.
That’s especially the case in Anchorage, where just three staffed intensive care unit beds remained open as of Monday.
“We continue to manage, but pressure is not letting up, and there are no signs of relief in the foreseeable future,” Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said Monday.
High case counts continued over the weekend, with 1,063 cases reported over the last three days, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard that was updated on Monday. That count included 372 new cases on Saturday, 398 on Sunday and 293 on Monday.
Alaska’s latest surge has been driven almost entirely by the delta coronavirus variant — which made up about 97% of recently sequenced cases, according to a state report. Epidemiologists say the variant is about twice as contagious as the original strain, which means it can spread more quickly, even among people who are vaccinated.
State health officials continue to encourage more Alaskans to get vaccinated, calling the shot the best tool to fight the latest surge and stave off serious illness from the virus. Recent research cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that while “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated people can and do happen, vaccinated people are about eight times less likely to get COVID-19, and 25 times less likely to be hospitalized or die from the disease.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccine booster shots for some immunocompromised people, including those who have received solid organ transplants and others with similarly weakened immune systems.
By Monday, 49.4% of all Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 44.4% of the entire population was considered fully vaccinated. Among only eligible Alaskans 12 and older, those percentages were higher: 59.3% had received one dose, and 53.3% had completed their vaccination series.
Of all the tests conducted over the past week, 6.97% were positive. Epidemiologists have said a positivity rate over 5% is a cause for concern, because it points to higher transmission and not enough virus detection.
The CDC has said that anyone with even mild COVID-19 symptoms — plus anyone is a close contact of someone who has tested positive — should get tested, regardless of vaccination status.
A new testing site in Anchorage at the Alaska Airlines Center opened last week in response to increased demand for testing in the municipality. That site will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. An existing testing site at the Loussac Library also expanded its hours this week; they are now open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anchorage residents can visit anchoragecovidtest.org to find a free testing site near them.
In Alaska, 395 residents and eight nonresidents have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic reached the state last spring.