Alaska’s hospitals remain stretched thin as daily COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations continue to hover at persistently high levels, state health officials said Thursday.
Alaska reported five more COVID-19 deaths, 833 new cases and 221 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, 695 Alaska residents and 26 nonresidents have died with the virus.
Thursday’s numbers continued a trend of high cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the delta variant’s sharp rise over the summer in Alaska. Hospitalizations of COVID-positive patients have reached new heights in recent weeks.
And while state-contracted health care workers from out of state have helped relieve some of the burden on Alaska’s hospitals, the barrage of patients continues.
“What we’ve been hearing from the hospitals is that while the staffing has increased the number of patients they’ve been able to care for, there’s just more people in the hospital, both COVID and non-COVID,” the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, told reporters Thursday.
More than 20% of people in Alaska’s hospitals have COVID-19, which is high for any disease, Zink said, adding that some hospitals in the state reported that 50% to 60% of their patients are COVID-positive.
Tight hospital resources, including bed availability, continue to plague hospitals. Many people are still spending time in emergency departments while waiting for an intensive care unit bed, a process known as boarding.
And some of Alaska’s hospitals have more patients than ever, according to the state’s director of public health, Heidi Hedberg.
Deaths reported by the state on Thursday included a Kenai man in his 80s or older, a Soldotna man in his 40s, a Dillingham Census Area man in his 50s, a Haines man in his 70s and a Juneau woman in her 40s.
Despite a nationwide drop in cases recently, Alaska has continually reported a high case rate for several weeks after an all-time high in September. Alaska’s seven-day case rate remains the highest among U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Cases really haven’t been decreasing,” state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said during a call with reporters Thursday.
The state’s daily case tallies have instead been level for the past six to eight weeks, he said. Even with a slight seesaw pattern, Alaska remains in a general state of plateau.
Since people may seek hospital care days or weeks after initially testing positive, hospital statistics often reflect people who became sick earlier in the surge. That means hospitalizations and deaths reported each day aren’t expected to drop significantly until cases drop quite a bit, McLaughlin said.
About 8.9% of COVID-19 tests returned positive results based on a seven-day rolling average Thursday, a number that’s come down somewhat in recent days. Additionally, roughly 65% of eligible Alaskans had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 60.1% were considered fully vaccinated.