Alaska set a record for coronavirus-related hospitalizations and reported 1,024 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, reflecting stubbornly high virus transmission within the state and the ongoing impacts of a surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
By Thursday, there were 235 people hospitalized with COVID-19 around the state — a higher count than at any point during the pandemic, state data showed. The previous hospitalizations record was 223 on Sept. 25.
The new cases bumped Alaska back up to the top spot among U.S. states for seven-day case rates per 100,000 people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health officials said this week that while daily cases appeared to be plateauing, they have not yet begun to significantly decline.
Despite a few regions seeing decreases in their case rates, there’s generally a lot of COVID-19 spreading around Alaska, the state’s chief medical officer told reporters Thursday. A fifth of the state’s hospitalized patients have COVID-19, which continues to strain facilities.
Hospital administrators say that even if Alaska’s cases begin to significantly decline, those dips won’t be reflected in hospitalization numbers for at least a few weeks.
“We continue to be functioning in the darkest days of the pandemic, and while there are some hopeful signs, our hospitals and caregivers need our support now more than ever,” Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said Thursday.
Twenty health care facilities across the state activated crisis standards of care last month, though the situation varies widely from facility to facility and day to day. An influx of hundreds of state-contracted health workers from Outside has brought some relief to hospitals dealing with staffing shortages.
Alaska on Thursday recorded one more COVID-19 death through a certificate review — involving a Kenai Peninsula woman in her 60s who died in August — while Fairbanks Memorial Hospital reported three virus-related deaths. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Fairbanks deaths were included in the state’s overall pandemic tally, which now includes 668 residents and 24 nonresidents.
State health officials said Thursday that COVID-19 is the third-leading underlying cause of death in 2021 so far. Cancer and heart disease are the top underlying causes of deaths in Alaska.
COVID-19 deaths follow spikes in cases and hospitalizations, and September 2021 marked the deadliest month of the pandemic. About a third of Alaska’s total deaths tied to COVID-19 were recorded from Aug. 1 through Thursday.
Alaska’s overall death rate since the start of the pandemic is the fourth-lowest in the country. Looking at just the past week, however, Alaska’s death rate is the third-highest among U.S. states at 10.5 deaths per 100,000 — though that data includes dozens of deaths that were reported this week but occurred earlier.
The state’s average test positivity rate over the last week is roughly 10%, a statistic that indicates widespread transmission and not enough testing.