Alaska News

Alaska reports 686 COVID-19 cases Thursday, and state confirms 5 recent deaths at Ketchikan Pioneer Home

Alaska on Thursday reported 686 new cases of COVID-19 while hospitals continued to operate under serious stress statewide.

Meanwhile, five deaths at a Pioneer Home in Ketchikan took place in the last week among people who tested positive for the virus, according to state health department spokesman Clinton Bennett. But in an email, Bennett did not confirm COVID-19 as the cause of the deaths.

“The Pioneer Homes do not determine the cause of death nor do they see the death certificates of residents,” Bennett said in the email.

In all, 12 residents and five staff members tested positive for the virus at the home this month, Bennett said. Continued testing occurs every few days and active cases are asked to quarantine, he said. Among staff and residents, the vaccination rate is at 90%, he said.

Bennett declined to specify whether residents who died were vaccinated against the virus, citing privacy statutes. Staff at the home are not required to get the vaccine.

The City and Borough of Juneau also reported the death of a resident in his 50s at Bartlett Regional Hospital on Wednesday, officials said in a release.

As of Thursday, the state reported that 404 Alaska residents and eight nonresidents have died of COVID-19.

The total number of cases reported Thursday is high partially due to delays in data processing, Alaska chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink told reporters on a call.

Those data backlogs have slowed the reporting of cases and testing turnaround times, which have ballooned from just hours to multiple days recently, health officials said.

On top of growing COVID-19 cases, the state’s hospital system continues to report being overburdened and understaffed. By Thursday, 125 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, state data showed.

Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association said in an email that facilities “are stressed, there is no relief in sight for the foreseeable future, and COVID cases and hospitalization trends from the Delta variant are not in our favor.”

At the same time, hospitals in the Pacific Northwest are similarly stressed, limiting options to transfer patients out of the state.

On top of that, as long-term care facilities are struggling with staffing levels, Kosin said. Some patients who would normally be transferred there must remain in hospital beds even once they do not need them.

Hospitalizations this week are up 23% compared to early August and up 122% compared with the previous month, he said.

“What does this all mean? We have said it repeatedly in public,” Kosin said. “Hospitals are designed to run full, but they are not designed to run in a heightened ‘disaster mode’ for over a year and a half. This is not sustainable. From our perspective, there is one path forward: Alaskans need to get vaccinated now.”

Statewide, 54% of eligible residents had been fully vaccinated against the virus while 60% had received their first dose by Thursday.

The average portion of positive tests in the last week was 7.1%.

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