Alaska News

Some Alaska hospitals no longer under crisis standards as COVID-19 patient numbers decline

Alaska on Wednesday reported one death and 336 new cases of COVID-19 as hospitalizations continued to fall.

By Wednesday, there were 76 people hospitalized with the virus — well below a peak of more than 200 recorded earlier this fall. Of the people hospitalized statewide, roughly 7.8% had active COVID-19 cases.

Some Alaska hospitals — including the state’s largest, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage — confirmed this week that as a result of more manageable patient counts, crisis standards of care were no longer active at their facilities.

COVID-19 cases in Alaska

Crisis standards were activated at the majority of hospitals around the state in early October in response to sharply rising hospitalizations and severe strain on essential resources like beds and staff.

Crisis standards are meant to provide both guidance and liability protection for health care workers operating with extremely scarce resources, and are often considered a worst-case scenario.

In Alaska, the application of crisis standards of care varied widely by each facility, and didn’t always mean the rationing of care. In many cases, activating crisis standards was seen as a pre-emptive measure.

Providence Alaska Medical Center stopped using crisis standards in mid-November, according to spokesman Mikal Canfield.

Crisis standards were not active at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, “nor are we rescheduling or postponing surgeries due to capacity or resource concerns any longer,” spokeswoman Kjerstin Lastufka said Tuesday.

At Alaska Native Medical Center, although crisis standards have not been needed in the past few weeks, the standards are officially still in place as a way to provide “future flexibility for staffing and equipment if necessary,” hospital spokeswoman Shirley Young said.

Crisis standards of care “are not being used right now,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. “I have not heard of any reports in the last few weeks that they’ve been necessary to use,” he said.

Even as cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, state health officials said this week that they are continuing to monitor for the omicron variant of the coronavirus that’s sparked concern worldwide due in part to its many mutations. The first U.S. case of the new variant has now been confirmed in California, but no omicron cases have been identified in Alaska so far, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday.

The new variant was classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization late last week. Much about the new variant is unknown — it’s not clear how contagious it is, whether it causes more severe illness or how well it can evade vaccines.

“I would say that there’s more unknowns than there are knowns,” Zink said Wednesday. “The science is evolving, we’ll continue to follow it quickly.”

Zink and other health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated. All adults 18 and older who are either six months past their last dose of an MRNA vaccine or two months past a Johnson & Johnson shot should get the booster shot, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

As of Wednesday, about 61% of Alaskans 5 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 55% were considered fully vaccinated. The state ranks 27th in the nation for its vaccination rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 cases in Alaska

The newly reported death involved a man from the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area in his 60s. So far, 851 Alaska residents and 30 nonresidents have died with the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Starting Monday, state COVID-19 data will be updated three times a week — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — instead of on each weekday, said the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
COVID-19 cases in Alaska
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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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