Kadin Lane Stropes, an intensive-care nurse at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, said every ICU bed there was full on Sunday morning — all but one of the patients sick with COVID-19.
Stropes is seeing people in their 20s and 30s seriously ill with the virus. Many of her COVID-positive patients say they wish they’d gotten vaccinated right before they get intubated.
“People are dying,” she wrote in a social media post after getting off work. “It’s heartbreaking watching a 10-year-old girl FaceTime her intubated dad, and ask when he’s gonna be able to wake up and you don’t have an answer.”
Mat-Su this week became the latest hospital in Alaska’s urban center to report prolonged operations at capacity. The reason: surging COVID-19 cases that take time and extra staffing, combined with worker shortages and the usually busy summer season in the ER.
The state was reporting 126 people hospitalized with the virus through Sunday including 68 in Anchorage and 14 at Mat-Su Regional. Earlier this month, the hospital near Wasilla had enough room to provide beds for rural patients when Anchorage hospitals were too crowded.
Now Mat-Su is also full, seeing numerous complicated COVID-19 patients, nine of them on ventilators, state data shows.
“That creates substantial stress on our hospital capacity and our ability to respond,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.
Anchorage hospitals are already full and, with similarly crowded hospitals in Washington and Oregon, the ability to send patients out of state is extremely compromised, Kosin said. The association is looking into ways to juggle staffing shortages.
“The reason Mat-Su has our attention right now is because of the fair and school starting,” he said.
A number of Anchorage doctors urged broader masking and vaccine uptake during a special session of the Anchorage Assembly on Friday.
“We are on the verge of a hospital system collapse,” said Dr. Andrea Caballero, an infectious disease specialist who sees patients at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Emergency room physicians and people who treat the city’s sickest patients in the ICU described nurses and respiratory therapists pushed beyond their ability to cope.
Normally, emergency doctors start to get disturbed when patients have to wait 90 minutes or two hours, Dr. Ivan Ramirez said. “We’re seeing four and five hours now.”
Dr. Javid Kamali talked about holding the hand of a dying patient whose unvaccinated son couldn’t visit -- “These images, we can’t unsee them” — and the mortally ill 40-year-old father whose teenagers were vaccinated, though he was not.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Benjamin Westley contracted COVID-19, he said Friday, blaming a combination of waning vaccine efficacy, the highly contagious delta variant and low rates of masking indoors. Now he’s one of numerous health-care workers who can’t work because of the virus, fueling more staffing shortages that in turn can compromise patient care, Westley said.
The doctors urged the Assembly and the municipality’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Savitt, to display leadership on preventative measures like masking and vaccinations. The Anchorage Health Department in mid-August recommended masks in indoor public spaces.
Savitt said there’s no doubt hospitals are overwhelmed. He said the long-term solution is vaccination and the short-term solution is “proper mask usage” but said he wasn’t yet recommending the assembly take any action.
Alaska reported 1,050 new resident COVID-19 cases and 60 nonresident cases over a three-day weekend period ending Monday and no deaths.
There have been 406 Alaskans and eight nonresidents to die with COVID-19 since March 2020.
The state reported 221 new COVID-19 cases in residents for Sunday, 310 for Saturday, and 519 for Friday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. The statewide portion of positive tests out of total performed over a 7-day rolling average was 7.1%.
Alaska ranks 32nd among U.S. states for vaccinations based on the share of the eligible population that has received at least one dose, according to the CDC’s data tracker.
Currently 53.8% of eligible Alaskans 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while nearly 60% have received at least one dose, state health officials say.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years of age and older. It was previously been authorized under an emergency use authorization, which allowed the vaccine to be used during the pandemic while more data continued to be collected and analyzed, state health officials said Monday.
The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization for people from 12 to 15, and for the administration of a third dose in immunocompromised patients.
“Alaskans have important questions about the vaccines, and we know some people have been waiting for full approval,” chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said in a statement. “We hope this instills confidence and encourages more Alaskans to now get vaccinated.”