Opinions

Alaskans, your doctors and health care workers need your help

The Alaska State Medical Association represents physicians statewide and supports their efforts to improve the health and well-being of all Alaskans.

Doctors throughout the state can see that the state’s health care system is currently in crisis mode, pushed to the brink by increasing numbers of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Many Alaska hospitals are at or near capacity, their medical wards and ICUs overextended, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to find places to admit new patients needing oxygen and antiviral therapy.

Equally problematic, hospital beds have also been hard or impossible to locate for patients requiring care for more standard conditions, such as persons needing urgent cancer therapy or heart procedures.

The Association and its physician members urge Alaskans to take all steps possible to slow the ongoing epidemic. First, eligible patients should get vaccinated if they’ve not already done so. Research shows vaccines greatly reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 if exposed, and even further reduce the risk of developing a severe case and needing hospitalization or dying. Even statewide data clarifies this point: Communities like Juneau with high vaccination rates are currently seeing lower COVID-19 hospitalization rates than cities with lower vaccine rates.

Second, all of us should be masking more. Even after vaccination masks remains important, especially with the current prevalence of highly infectious delta variants. Not only does masking reduce the likelihood that you’ll catch COVID-19, but it also decreases the likelihood that you could infect a friend or family member. Finally, if you believe you may be infected contact your physician or public health clinic for advice on confirmatory testing, potential medical treatments and approaches to minimize the chance of spread to others.

Historically, Alaska has had some of the country’s highest rates of infectious diseases, traumatic injuries, substance-use disorders and mental health conditions. Physicians in the state understand this and choose to work here in part to help patients and communities address these problems. But none of these chronic problems has ever taken the short-term toll on the state caused by the current pandemic.

Doctors statewide implore our patients and all Alaskans to pitch in during this crisis: If you’ve not yet been vaccinated, please do so; and wear your mask in all high-risk situations. The health and well-being of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens depends on each of your choices. Finally, take care of yourself: Catch up on your own cancer screenings, flu vaccine, vision and dental health and other preventive measures. Your health and well-being are precious.

Janice Sheufelt, M.D., is a family physician in Juneau and serves as president of the Alaska State Medical Association.

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