Alaska reports highest daily COVID-19 count since December as Dunleavy warns about hospital capacity

Cars line up for drive-through Covid-19 testing on the Alaska Native Medical Campus on Aug. 24, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

A total of 701 Alaskans tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the state’s highest daily tally of infections since December. And health officials warn that the actual number of cases may be even higher due to delays in entering the data. 

“We are still limited in our data entry, which includes entering these cases in,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said at a Thursday media briefing. 

The news comes as health officials continue to warn that Alaska’s hospital capacity is more stressed than it has been the entire pandemic. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also sounded the alarm on a podcast posted on his Facebook page Wednesday. 

“The hospitals today are constrained more so than they were at the height of the original variant of the COVID virus back in November,” he said. “That coupled with the fact that the hospitals are actually losing workers — workers that have worked long hours, workers that are burned out. We’re finding that the folks that are employed there, some of them have left.”

Anchorage reported just two free adult ICU beds on Thursday, while the Mat-Su Borough says all 14 of its beds are filled, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. Overall, 100 of the state’s 120 ICU beds are full, though staffing shortages could lower the number of usable beds even further. Dunleavy said the capacity constraints are causing delays in getting care for people who may come into emergency rooms.

“That means if you get hurt or if you get sick, and you would normally go to the hospital expecting a certain level of care, you may not get it. You may go in and your wait may be not just an hour or two, but may be a very long time,” he said. 

Health officials say there are a few positive signs: COVID vaccination rates are about 25% higher than they were a month ago. 

It’s not clear whether FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week affected vaccination rates since the state doesn’t have complete data yet for this week. Chelsea Ward-Waller, a spokesperson for Anchorage’s health department, said the city was hopeful that vaccination rates would increase in the city. The city’s vaccine appointment scheduling website got 30% more traffic on Monday, the day of the approval, compared with the previous Monday. 

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The 701 new COVID-19 infections from Wednesday were spread across the entire state, with the most infections, 261, reported in Anchorage, followed by 67 in Wasilla and 44 in Fairbanks.

By Thursday, there were 127 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus in Alaska. 26 of them were on ventilators. 

A total of 1,967 Alaskans have been hospitalized with the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 427 have died from the virus.

Dunleavy and other administration officials are giving an update on Alaska’s COVID-19 situation at 5 p.m. Thursday.  It’s the governor’s first news conference dedicated to COVID in months. 

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