Alaska News

Alaska reports 8 deaths, 830 COVID-19 cases Wednesday as hospitalizations remain high

Alaska on Wednesday reported 830 cases of COVID-19, eight deaths and more than 200 virus-related hospitalizations statewide.

State health officials say that the latest counts reflect a relatively flat trend in new COVID-19 cases in recent days — but there still doesn’t appear to be a significant decrease in cases or hospitalizations across the state just yet.

“We continue to have about five times the national average in the number of cases per 100,000,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said on a public call Wednesday afternoon. She described the state’s recent case trend as “flat-ish.”

Alaska’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 is the fourth-highest among U.S. states.

In hospitals, “the situation is still just as serious and pressure-filled as it has been,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, on Wednesday.

There are currently at least 205 people hospitalized with the virus around the state, including 29 on ventilators. Those high numbers represent a continued, substantial burden on hospitals in Alaska, 20 of which activated crisis standards of care last month, though the situation varies widely from facility to facility.

“We’re still seeing those situations where it’s challenging for bed placements, we’re still seeing our ICUs extremely busy,” Kosin said. “I think we’re more accustomed to dealing with it now that it’s been ongoing at this level for a few weeks, and now that we have relief staff. But it’s still extremely stressful.”

Despite the continued challenges in hospitals, an influx of state-contracted health workers from the Lower 48 has helped with morale and helped meet demand, according to Kosin.

During the latest surge, hospital staffing has posed one of the most significant challenges, and having hundreds more health care workers available to staff beds has increased capacity at facilities, he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that the pressure on the system has softened,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see hospital operations normalize for at least a few weeks, just because we’re operating at such an intense level right now.”

After the state on Tuesday recorded an additional 66 COVID-19 deaths that mostly occurred in September, another eight deaths were reported Wednesday through a standard review of death certificates. Of the eight, seven occurred in October, and one was from May.

Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, health officials say.

The newly reported deaths involved an Anchorage man in his 80s, an Anchorage woman in her 80s, an Anchorage woman in her 60s, a Juneau woman in her 50s, a Soldotna man in his 50s, a Fairbanks man in his 70s and a Fairbanks woman in her 70s, plus an Anchorage man in his 70s who died in May.

A total of 667 Alaska residents and 24 nonresidents have now died with the virus since January 2020. September 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic so far.

Based on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alaska continues to have one of the lowest death rates in the nation since the start of the pandemic, along with Oregon, Maine, Utah, Vermont and Hawaii. Alaska has averaged 90 deaths per 100,000 people since January 2020, giving it the fourth-lowest death rate in the country for that time frame.

Over the last week, Alaska’s rate was higher: As of Wednesday, it had the 25th highest death rate in the nation, with 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people. That data includes deaths that were reported this week but occurred earlier.

By Wednesday, 64.4% of Alaskans 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

State health officials said Wednesday that Alaska children as young as 5 would mostly likely become eligible to get vaccinated as soon as next month.

[White House details plans to vaccinate millions of children ages 5 to 11 after FDA approval]

Alaska has preemptively been allocated 33,000 doses of Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, which is about enough to vaccinate 44% of kids in that age range, said Matt Bobo, immunization program director with the state health department.

A federal advisory committee to the CDC is scheduled to meet the first week of November to discuss Pfizer’s application to approve vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

“Once that happens, then we can start administering that vaccine,” Bobo said.

Of all tests conducted in Alaska over the last week, roughly one in ten came back positive, state data showed.

Epidemiologists say a positivity rate over 5% is an indication of widespread transmission and not enough testing being done.