Coronavirus outbreaks in Alaska, flooding state hospitals

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Alaska, once a leader in vaccinating its citizens, is now in the throes of its worst coronavirus wave of the pandemic, as the Delta variant tears the state apart, inundating hospitals with patients.

As of Tuesday, the state averaged 117 new cases per day per 100,000 population, more than any other state in the country, according to recent trends in data collected by The New York Times. This figure has increased by 42% in the last two weeks and more than twenty times since the beginning of July.

On Wednesday, the state said it had activated “crisis care standards,” giving hospitals legal protections for triage decisions that require them to give some patients substandard care. The state also announced an $ 87 million contract to bring in hundreds of temporary healthcare workers to support hospitals.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, said although hospitals are overcrowded, he saw no need to implement restrictions to curb transmission. Still, he encouraged people who had not yet been vaccinated to seriously consider doing so.

“We have the tools at our disposal so that individuals can take care of themselves,” said Dunleavy. While the state dominated the country in immunization earlier this year, it has fallen behind in recent months, with less than half of the state’s population fully vaccinated, compared to 55% for the nationwide, according to federal data.

Jared Kosin, the head of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, called the surge “crippling” in an interview Tuesday. He added that hospitals were full and healthcare workers were emotionally exhausted. The crisis has reached such a point that patients are forced to wait for treatment in their cars in front of overwhelmed emergency rooms.

There is growing anxiety in outlying communities that depend on the transfer of critically ill patients to Anchorage hospitals that can provide higher levels of care, Kosin said. Transfers are increasingly difficult to organize and are often delayed, he said.

“We are all wondering where this is going and if this transfer will be available even tomorrow,” Kosin said.

Critically ill people in rural areas, where many Alaskan natives reside, often have to be airlifted to a hospital that can provide them with the treatment they need, said Dr. Philippe Amstislavski, associate professor of health. public at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Unlike the lower 48, you don’t have this ability to move people quickly, due to the distances and remoteness,” said Dr. Amstislavski, former public health official for the Alaska Interior region. , focusing on rural areas and mainly Alaska Native Communities.

Mr Kosin said if the number of cases continued to rise and further increase in hospital admissions, hospitals and clinics across the state could be forced to enforce crisis care standards and triage decisions. more extreme. “This is the worst case we could be heading for,” he said.

Alaska natives, who have historically suffered from health disparities in the state, are struggling disproportionately during the latest wave of the virus, Dr Amstislavski said.

Alaskan Chief Medical Officer Dr Anne Zink said several factors may be contributing to the state’s push, including summer tourists who introduce and spread the virus.

“We hope that as the snow falls and we have fewer visitors these numbers will stabilize,” Dr Zink said in an interview on Tuesday evening.

On the flip side, she noted that the cooler weather makes residents spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads more easily.

Dr Zink said many healthcare workers in the state were exhausted from the pressure of the pandemic.

“When you have a deeply rural state that has limited healthcare capacity to start with, it doesn’t take much longer to be able to overwhelm your system, very quickly,” Dr. Zink said, adding that the average Alaskan travels nearly 150 miles for care.

Dr Amstislavski said many hospitals are struggling to bring in reinforcements from other states due to the long distances and travel times.

He added that Alaska’s vaccination rate has been lagging in recent months.

The state’s Canadian neighbors to the east, the Yukon and British Columbia, have not experienced such severe outbreaks, Dr Amstislavski said, possibly due to stricter travel restrictions in this country. countries and health system less strained.


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