Alaska’s current COVID-19 surge hit new heights Wednesday as the state reported another 1,251 new cases, marking another daily case record since the pandemic began as hospitals continue to operate under extreme stress and some are forced to ration care.
It’s the second time in two weeks that the state has shattered its daily case record: The previous high was recorded last Wednesday, with 1,095 cases, followed by a second consecutive day of more than 1,000 new infections.
Propelled by a sharp rise in new infections, Alaska continues to have the highest COVID-19 case rate per capita in the country, according to a New York Times tracker updated Wednesday.
“This is not the direction that we want to go in,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Wednesday during a briefing with top state health officials. “Our case counts are rising. This is concerning, and should be concerning to all of us. It’s impacting our hospitals greatly. It’s impacting our hospital capacity and the ability to get the care that you need.”
Dunleavy on Wednesday announced that Alaska was implementing crisis standards of care for the entire state, a drastic step that signals staff shortages and influx of COVID-19 patients could make it impossible for some hospitals to treat everyone.
Alaska is “at the worst place in the pandemic that we’ve had this entire time,” said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. “We have more cases, we have our hospitals being overrun by the number of patients that are coming there, and we need to collectively to move that direction.”
Dunleavy urged Alaskans to take individual steps to help slow the spread of the virus but stopped short of issuing or supporting mandates.
“This virus is real,” he said. “It’s causing more infections, it’s causing more people to go to the hospitals, it’s causing more deaths. This is a fact.”
Alaska’s hospitals continue to operate under extreme stress.
Last week, the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, announced it was shifting to crisis standards of care and rationing treatment due to a combination of staffing shortages and COVID-19 cases that accounted for about a third of the hospital’s patients.
When hospitals are full, that affects care for all patients — not just those sick with COVID-19, Dunleavy said.
“There’s less and less space and capacity for what we deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “So, car accidents, strokes, heart attacks or other cardiovascular issues.”
At Providence, at least one hospital patient has died as a direct result of limited resources and impossible choices doctors have had to make, hospital administrators said early this week. It’s likely that Providence will remain in crisis mode for at least another two weeks, they said.
The number of COVID-positive patients hospitalized as of Tuesday evening was 200 — slightly below a record of 210 earlier this month, but far above last winter’s previous peak. Hospitals say those numbers are likely an undercount of the true impact of COVID-19, since they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.
State officials on Wednesday announced other actions being taken to address the worsening pandemic situation in Alaska. The state has signed an $87 million contract that will allow hundreds of medical personnel to come Alaska to assist health care facilities, according to Heidi Hedberg, public health director with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Additionally, the Board of Nursing has passed emergency regulations reducing the required number of training hours for certified nurse assistants to expedite the certification process; the state is working with the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association on heightened recruitment for CNAs; Alaska’s health department is purchasing $2 million worth of at-home antigen testing kits to be distributed through schools to families; and the state is also pursuing ways for emergency medical service providers in major population centers to help alleviate pressure on hospitals through telemedicine, transfers to alternate health care facilities and at-home checks, Hedberg said.
One new COVID-19 death was reported Wednesday, involving an Anchorage man in his 80s or older. In total, 466 residents and 15 nonresidents in the state have died with the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Alaska’s rate of vaccination has been rising slowly in recent weeks. As of Wednesday, 62.6% of Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine and 58% were fully vaccinated.
The statewide seven-day rolling average for test positivity — positive results out of total performed — was 9.07% as of Wednesday. Health authorities say anything over 5% signals there’s not enough testing occurring.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.