Alaska News

Alaska reports nearly 5,500 new cases over 2 days as hospitals contend with stubborn staffing issues

Alaska on Wednesday reported 5,497 new cases of COVID-19 over two days as part of a continuing coronavirus surge that so far has shown no signs of slowing in the state.

While cases have begun falling significantly in other parts of the world — including Canada and South Africa — “Alaska continues to be on an upward trend,” the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said Wednesday. She and other health officials have predicted the peak in Alaska is still a few weeks away based on how long it has taken for omicron cases to begin falling in other states and countries.

The latest case count included 5,386 cases among Alaska residents and 111 among nonresidents in the state.

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The recent spike in cases, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, has been marked by less severe disease in many cases, along with fewer hospitalizations and deaths. However, a combination of staff shortages and rising patient counts has again strained the state’s health care system.

By Wednesday, there were 129 people hospitalized with COVID — well below a peak of more than 200 hospitalizations recorded last fall and down from 139 reported by the state on Monday, but still enough to put stress on hospital resources.

At the state’s largest hospital, ICU bed capacity remained limited: There was just two open ICU beds as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Providence Alaska Medical Center spokesman Mikal Canfield.

Providence is currently averaging 80 staff members calling out each day due to the virus, Canfield said. “The high overall census, lack of many available ICU beds, and staffing challenges can potentially affect our ability to accept patient transfers from other facilities,” he said.

At hospitals around the state, high numbers of staff callouts due to illness or exposure continue to be facilities’ biggest challenge, “but as a whole, the health care system is intact and managing at the moment,” said Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

At Alaska Native Medical Center, there were seven ICU beds available early Wednesday, said hospital spokeswoman Shirley Young. She said the facility continues to experience “substantial” staff shortages due to callouts related to illness or exposure.

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Alaska on Wednesday also reported nine more deaths from the virus. The deaths included four people from Anchorage, four people from Wasilla and one from North Pole. One was in their 50s, one was in their 60s, three were in their 70s and four were in their 80s or older.

“Remember that the death certificate review process takes a while, and so those deaths are always a lagging indicator and will be shared out as soon as we have the information,” Zink said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how recently the newly reported deaths had occurred. Since March 2020, there have been 1,048 COVID-19 deaths among Alaska residents and 33 additional nonresident deaths.

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.