Alaska hits record 3,640 COVID-19 cases in 2 days as omicron cuts health workforce

Alaska health officials reported 3,640 new cases of COVID-19 over two days on Friday, a record increase that is not yet overwhelming hospitals but is forcing health workers to stay at home.

The sudden increase in new cases is linked to the arrival of the omicron variant, which appears milder than previous variants but is spreading incredibly quickly, according to health officials. They continue to advocate vaccination and booster shots as the best way to avoid serious illness.

The state also reported an additional death from the virus and an increase in hospitalizations of 70 patients, up from 56 reported on Wednesday, after the number of patients remained fairly stable over the past month. The deceased was a man in his 60s who lived in the Hoonah-Angoon and Yakutat area.

But hospital officials say there is already another kind of pressure: As cases skyrocket, more healthcare workers are calling in sick. Even if they don’t feel bad, they still need to be off work for at least five days after a positive COVID-19 test or close contact.

“Monday is like, ‘OK, I don’t feel like it’s totally touched yet.’ Then it’s overnight – all of a sudden we start hearing patient calls, ”said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

Residents of Anchorage accounted for more than 2,000 reported cases in Friday’s two-day tally.

The new number of cases recorded daily represents an increase of almost 120% from the nearly 1,600 total cases reported Monday and Tuesday: 1,784 resident cases were reported on Wednesday and 1,750 more on Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health and of Alaska Social Services. The previous record, set in the previous push, was 1,719 in September.

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

After the fall thrust caused by the delta variant, cases, hospitalizations and deaths gradually declined. But that trend – at least for new cases – is now shaken by a dramatic surge here that mirrors models across the country as the omicron variant spreads at unprecedented speeds.

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

The explosive increase looks alarming, but some experts recommend focusing instead on COVID-19 hospital admissions, which are not climbing as quickly.

Many people, especially those who are vaccinated and boosted or have had COVID-19 in the past, show mild symptoms and recover quickly, said Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska. Even people hospitalized with the variant do not need as long care as they did with previous relapses caused by other variants.

“The majority of Alaskans have been vaccinated. Many, many more people have had COVID, ”Zink said, adding that a previous infection appears to offer some protection. “I think the cases are now really different from the wave and the way they were before, very different from two years ago, when no one had been 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 immunized. Only 22.6% had received booster injections.

The peak in Alaska comes even as Anchorage residents and elected officials fear the exact number of cases may be wiped out by growing reliance on scarce home testing kits – which are not recorded in state data – and to an inconsistently opened PCR reader. via 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 are enough tests and can indicate rapid transmission, hit a record 18.35% on Friday.

State health officials in an update on Friday said protective measures against omicron remain the same as for other COVID-19 variants: masking, handwashing, distancing and testing. Public health officials have also recommended self-testing before and after travel and large gatherings.

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

“If you test positive for COVID-19, your first priority is to isolate yourself from others so you don’t spread the virus. Then quickly notify your close contacts that they may also have been exposed to the virus, ”an update said on Friday. “COVID-19 is very contagious. Cases are increasing in Alaska. There is no shame in having tested positive. But, by working with close contacts, we can prevent the virus from spreading further. “

Any growing number of hospitalizations is cause for concern at this point, given growing staff issues, Kosin said.

He said the numbers between 50 and 60 are “manageable” compared to the delta surge that accelerated over the summer through fall, when record hospitalizations of COVID-positive patients approached 250.

But if a significant portion of the workforce is forced to stay at home simultaneously, even a relatively small number of patients can be crippling, he said.

“We really don’t know how many hospitalizations this will produce. Right now the hospitalizations are going on, ”Kosin said. “If this starts to take off and we continue to have this upward trend in staff calls, it’s the worst-case scenario and very, very different from Delta in a negative way.”

Seattle hospitals, normally a destination for Alaskan patients in need of further care, are already approaching a “crisis situation,” as hospital heads, doctors and doctors said Thursday. public health officials, according to the Seattle Times.

In October, the state adopted crisis care standards for about two-thirds of Alaskan healthcare facilities. Standards can help prioritize scarce resources – personnel or equipment – and provide protection against liability.

The standards remain in place, which means hospitals that are due to use them could again, Kosin said.

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

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