Record COVID-19 hospitalizations strain Alaska health system

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An increase in hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients is further straining Alaska’s hospital system, with one health official calling it a “very serious crisis” and worrying what the next few weeks will bring.

Hospitals had a record 152 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, surpassing previous highs in December, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“We’ve hit new highs, and it looks like we’re not done yet,” Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, told the Anchorage Daily News on Monday after 151 hospitalizations were reported over the weekend. “Make no mistake: this is a crisis.”

He said the latest increase in COVID-19 infections has shown little signs of slowing, and the next two weeks could be critical in determining how the crisis develops.

As of Tuesday, 771 of the state’s 1,200 hospital beds were filled. Out of 174 intensive care beds, all but 26 were taken.

There are 400 ventilators available in Alaska. Of those, 47 are being used, 19 by COVID-19 patients.

In total, 427 Alaskans have died since the pandemic started.

The state’s hospitals were already stretched thin due to staffing shortages and normal summer increases in admissions. Hospitals are reporting lengthy waits for emergency rooms, sporadic cancellations of elective procedures and patients competing for intensive care beds.

“If things keep accelerating, then it’s the scenario that we don’t talk about, that we haven’t talked about, that other states unfortunately have gone through,” Kosin said.

Surgeries could be canceled on a daily basis, he said, including “cancer extractions, very serious, life-impacting procedures.”

“I don’t know how else to tell people this is a very serious crisis, and I hope people understand that and take action on it,” Kosin said.

Alaska has never had a mask mandate. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who has both recovered from COVID-19 and been vaccinated, has encouraged Alaskans to wear masks and talk to their doctors about getting vaccinated “if that’s what they want to do.”