An apparent decrease in COVID-19 cases in Alaska in recent weeks appears to have stalled.
“Basically, Alaska has plateaued,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said during a call Thursday with reporters.
Alaska reported 964 new resident COVID cases on Thursday and another 22 among nonresidents who tested positive in the state. The number of cases over the past week has increased by an average of 8% over the previous week, though it’s still about a third lower than the record high levels set at the end of September.
COVID hospitalizations also ticked up on Thursday, to 209 patients. The number of patients with coronavirus in Alaska’s hospitals reached a record high in September, at 230.
McLaughlin said hospitalizations will likely stay high as long as case counts are high. Alaska continues to lead the country in its COVID-19 rate, according to data from the New York Times.
“What we can expect with respect to hospitalizations is probably something similar to what we’ve seen in the recent days and weeks,” he said. “As soon as we do start to see a notable decline in cases, then we expect that we will see a concomitant decrease in hospitalizations.”
December 2020 was the deadliest month of the pandemic in Alaska so far with 100 deaths recorded, but hospitalization trends suggest September could surpass it once officials finish reviewing death certificates.
Health officials say that before the delta variant, there was usually a delay between a rise in cases and a rise in hospitalizations. The trends are different with the delta surge, which experts say could be caused by the faster transmission of the highly-contagious delta variant, as well as patients behaving differently.
“We continually see people in the emergency department who are unvaccinated who show up who never got tested. And so their first presentation is when they become hospitalized,” Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said on Thursday.
The state has enacted crisis standards of care for 20 hospitals, which protect them from liability when they’re forced to ration care, and Zink said another hospital had requested coverage under those standards. She didn’t name the hospital.
But Zink said a recent influx of hundreds of out-of-state health workers has helped hospitals restore some care that was being rationed, like dialysis.
“I get texts every day from happy health care workers explaining what a difference this is making on the frontline, which is fantastic,” she said.