Alaska surpasses previous hospitalizations record and reports deaths of 6 with COVID, including woman in her 20s


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — More Alaskans are now hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point during the pandemic as surging coronavirus cases overwhelm some testing facilities, leading to long waits around the state.

The state on Tuesday also reported six deaths of people with the virus, four residents and two nonresidents. The resident deaths involved an Anchorage woman in her 20s, an Anchorage woman in her 30s, an Anchorage man in his 70s, and a Dillingham area man in his 60s.

In total, 431 Alaskans and 13 nonresidents have died with the virus.

By Tuesday, 152 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The previous hospitalizations record was 151, reached in December 2020, and was tied this past weekend.

For weeks, Alaska hospitals have been operating at an unsustainable level due to the combination of busy summer admissions, staff shortages and the growing surge in high-needs COVID-19 patients. On Monday, Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, described the current situation as a crisis and said the next two weeks would be critical in determining how badly hospital capacity would be affected.

A worst-case scenario would look like field hospitals stood up, postponed critical procedures and surgeries and an exhausted workforce, Kosin said.

The state reported 634 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, 601 of them residents. Alaska’s latest surge in cases and hospitalizations has been driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant.

Local officials in Juneau reported 72 new cases on Tuesday alone, 63 residents and nine nonresidents. Juneau Public Health officials described several ongoing trends: some cases associated with a local mine; some cases on small and large cruise ships; household spread; and cases popping up from regular screening at congregate living facilities.

The level of COVID-19 transmission around the state has triggered a wave of testing demand that’s overwhelming facilities, said Dr. Coleman Cutchins, state pharmacist. Turnaround times from testing labs remains about the same: 24 to 72 hours, with many results coming back within 48 hours.

But it’s taking hours to get tested in some places.

“What were seeing is a whole lot of people exposed,” Cutchins said Tuesday. “It’s overwhelming our testing sites, it’s overwhelming our hospitals, it’s overwhelming our doctors’ offices.”

Anchorage testing sites reported relatively short wait times until Monday, according to Christy Lawton, municipal public health director. That’s when the municipal sites collected about 1,700 tests — the highest amount since November. Busiest sites appeared to be in Eagle River and Muldoon, Lawton said. Test turnaround time is still around 24 hours, “which is great,” she said.

In Mat-Su, a popular drive-thru testing site at the old Sears building in Wasilla was reporting delays of more than three hours and people in line described four-hour waits or being turned away. Delays were also being reported in Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula.

Testing waits are worse in the state’s communities with lower vaccination rates, Cutchins said. Mat-Su is the least vaccinated urban part of the state, with just over 38% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates on the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks are just under 50%.

Another factor in the long lines are unvaccinated people who work for employers requiring either vaccination or testing. Those people are adding to the testing pressure, and making it harder for people with symptoms to get tested quickly.

“We really encourage people with any symptom to get tested,” he said. “Please do not let a line deter you from that.”

Statewide, 61% of those ages 12 and up had at least one dose of the vaccine while nearly 55% were considered fully vaccinated.

On average over the past seven days, 7.56% of COVID-19 tests were returned positive in the state. Generally, anything over 5% is viewed as an indication there isn’t enough testing going on.

The seven-day test positivity rates in Mat-Su and the Kenai Peninsula reported Tuesday were 14% and 13%, respectively.

People should get tested, vaccinated or not, as they see any possible symptoms, Cutchins said.

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