Alaska reports five new COVID-19 deaths and 2,000 infections with hospitals still under siege

Alaska on Monday reported five more deaths from COVID-19 as the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus over the weekend dropped slightly from near-record levels.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the deaths were recent.

[How do COVID-19 deaths in Alaska get counted?]

The decline in the hospitalization number reported Monday doesn’t necessarily signal a positive trend in Alaska’s surging COVID-19 rate, among the worst in the country, medical experts say.

State health officials say hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators that tend to follow high new-case reports by at least a week or two. Alaska reported new records for daily cases last week.

[Alaska’s 1,095 new COVID-19 cases shatter daily record as overburdened hospitals struggle with capacity]

The situation in the state’s hospitals remained unchanged from last week based on information provided Monday morning during a daily call the health department hosts for hospitals around the state, said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

“There are still reports of exhaustion, lots of complex patients,” Kosin said. “It feels like we’re just in a bigger wave. We’re going to have our day by day ups and downs, but in terms of overall trends and how our facilities are feeling … there’s no change.”

Even if infection rates start to drop, it will take time before there’s relief in hospitals, he said. “A few days of lower cases won’t translate to more stable in-patient environments for some time because of how intense of a level we’re all operating at right now.”

Last week, the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, announced it was shifting to crisis standards of care and rationing treatment due to a combination of staffing shortages and an overload of COVID-19 patients.

At Providence, emergency patients sometimes wait for hours and doctors and nurses are now forced to decide who gets care. Physicians in a letter to Alaskans urged the public to get vaccinated and practice mitigations like masking. They also recommended avoiding “potentially dangerous activities.”

Other hospitals in Anchorage and elsewhere are delaying non-urgent surgeries and restricting visitors. Rural hospitals are struggling to transfer patients for higher-level care.

As reported by the state Monday, the number of COVID-positive patients hospitalized as of Sunday dropped below 200 to 198 after hitting a record of 210 earlier this month. Hospitals say those numbers are likely an undercount of the true impact of COVID-19, since they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.

Washington state on Monday reported a more significant decline in hospitalization numbers, a change seen as partly a result of rising numbers of deaths in people with the virus.

Alaska on Monday also reported 2,054 new infections in residents in the three-day period from Friday to Sunday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard.

As of Monday, 62.4% of Alaskans had received at least one dose of vaccine and 57.5% were fully vaccinated. Alaska ranked 32nd in the country for vaccination rates per 100,000.

The statewide seven-day rolling average for test positivity — positive results out of total performed — was 9.61% as of Monday. Health authorities say anything over 5% signals there’s not enough testing occurring.