Alaska rises to record 3,640 COVID-19 over 2 days as omicron cuts health care

Alaska’s health officials on Friday reported as many as 3,640 new COVID-19 cases over two days, a record-breaking increase that has yet to overwhelm hospitals but is forcing health workers to stay home.

The sudden increase in new cases is associated with the arrival of the omicron variant, which seems milder than previous variants but spreads incredibly fast, health officials say. They continue to call for vaccination and boosters as the best way to avoid serious illness.

The state also reported a further death due to the virus and an increase in hospitalizations to 70 patients, from 56 reported Wednesday after the number of patients remained fairly stable over the past month. The person who died was a man in his 70s who lived in the Hoonah-Angoon and Yakutat area.

But hospital officials say there is already another form of pressure: As cases skyrocket, more healthcare professionals are reporting sick. Even if they are not feeling terrible, they should still be out of work for at least five days after a positive COVID-19 test or close contact.

“Monday, it’s like, ‘OK, it does not feel like it’s completely hit yet.’ Then it’s overnight – all of a sudden we start hearing sick calls coming in,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

Anchorage residents accounted for over 2,000 cases reported in Friday’s two-day inventory.

The new daily cases represent an increase of nearly 120% over the nearly 1,600 total cases reported for Monday and Tuesday: 1,784 resident cases were reported for Wednesday and a further 1,750 for Thursday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The previous record set during the previous rise was 1,719 in September.

The state reported a further 106 new cases over two days involving non-residents.

After the fall increase driven by the delta variant, cases, hospitalizations and deaths gradually declined. But that trend – at least for new cases – is now being reversed by a dramatic rise here, reflecting patterns across the country as the omicron variant spreads at unprecedented speeds.

In the week following Christmas, Alaska saw a 262% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases compared to the seven-day average of the previous reporting period.

The explosive increase seems alarming, but some experts recommend that the focus should instead be on COVID-19 hospital admissions, which are not rising as fast.

Many people, especially those who have been vaccinated and boosted or have had COVID-19 before, experience mild symptoms and recover quickly, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Physician. Even people who are hospitalized with the variant do not need as long-term care as they did during previous increases driven by other variants.

“The majority of Alaska’s population has been vaccinated. Many, many more people have had COVID,” Zink said, adding that previous infections appear to provide some protection. “I think the cases now are really different from even the previous wave and way, very different from two years ago where no one was vaccinated and no one had seen the virus.”

As of Friday, 68% of eligible Alaskans and military or veterans had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and just over 60% were fully vaccinated. Only 22.6% had received booster shots.

The rise in Alaska comes as residents of Anchorage and elected officials express concern that accurate case numbers could be suppressed by a growing reliance on scarce home test kits – which are not logged on state data – and inconsistent open PCR drives – through test sites.

[Anchorage health official says there’ll be more testing, other changes after ‘perfect storm’ of issues]

The state’s test positivity rate, a number that measures whether there is sufficient testing and which can indicate fast transmission, rose to 18.35% on Friday, a record.

State health officials said in an update Friday that omicron safeguards remain the same as for the other COVID-19 variants: masking, handwashing, spacing and testing. Public health officials also recommended self-tests before and after travel and large gatherings.

In a guide on how to treat COVID-19 at home, the state health minister recommends people who test positive for COVID-19 or experience symptoms to talk to their health care provider, contact a public health center or call the state COVID helpline at 907-646- 3322 to learn about possible treatment options.

“If you test positive for COVID-19, your first priority is to isolate yourself from others so you do not spread the virus. Then quickly let your close contacts know that they may also have been exposed to the virus,” an update said Friday. “COVID-19 is highly contagious. Cases are on the rise in Alaska. It’s no shame to be tested positive. But by working with close contacts, we can stop the virus from spreading further.”

Any increasing number of hospitalizations is worrying at this point given growing staff concerns, Kosin said.

He said numbers in the range of 50 to 60 are “manageable” compared to the delta-driven rise that rose during the summer and into the fall, when record-high admissions of COVID-positive patients approached 250.

But if a significant portion of the workforce is forced to stay home at the same time, even relatively low patient numbers can be crippling, he said.

“We really do not know how many hospital admissions this is going to provide. Right now, hospital admissions are keeping stable,” Kosin said. case scenario and very, very different from delta in a negative way. “

Hospitals in Seattle, which is usually a destination for Alaska patients in need of higher care, are already approaching a “crisis situation,” hospital executives, doctors and public health officials said Thursday, according to the Seattle Times.

In October, the state passed crisis care standards for about two-thirds of Alaska’s health facilities. The standards can help prioritize scarce resources – staff or equipment – plus provide liability protection.

The standards remain in force, meaning hospitals that need to use them could again, Kosin said.

“Three months ago, we were at a critical point,” he said. “You come up for air and you think it’s going to be okay for a while, and then this comes right to us.”

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