The number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 continued to fall statewide on Tuesday, sparking optimism from the head of the Alaska Hospital Association after months of high stress and strain on healthcare facilities.
“It feels like we’re at a turning point,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, referring to a drop in hospitalizations from COVID-19 over the past week and a half.
“We feel that the situation (in hospitals) is becoming manageable in a way that hasn’t been the case for a long time,” he said.
As of Tuesday, there were 131 people hospitalized with COVID-19, state dashboard data shows, with about 14.4% of the state’s hospitalized patients considered active cases. That’s a significant drop from a peak of more than 200 people in hospital on average since Sept.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital announced on Tuesday that it has been deactivating crisis standards since early October. The return to a less-pressurized “contingency” standard of care reflected reduced hospitalizations, at the facility and statewide, which improved capacity and made it easier to transfer patients to other hospitals when needed, it said. Foundation Health Partners in a statement.
The effects of the most recent wave of virus are still being confirmed: Alaska reported a further 28 virus-related deaths on Tuesday identified through a review of death certificates. Twenty-two of those fatalities occurred in October, another five in September and one in August.
On Monday, the state reported 53 deaths from the virus, most of them in September.
The state health service also reported 387 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The number of cases has fallen from the record highs Alaska saw a few weeks ago, but the numbers are still relatively high when looking at the pandemic in general.
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Beginning in July, a virus wave, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, caused a surge in hospitalizations and deaths around Alaska and drove the health care system to a breaking point. September and October 2021 were the deadliest months of the pandemic to date, state data as of Tuesday show.
And while crisis standards for care were still officially activated in about 20 of Alaska’s hospitals, Kosin said the declining number of COVID-positive patients meant facilities didn’t have to act on those standards for the past week and a half.
The shift to crisis norms is often seen as a worst-case scenario. They are intended to provide both guidance and liability protection to healthcare professionals who work with extremely scarce resources.
“If this trend continues, we would expect crisis standards for care to be deactivated,” Kosin said.
The latest number of cases is also part of a downward trajectory in cases Alaska has seen recently after several weeks of declining daily numbers.
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The newly reported deaths involved: a Kotzebue woman in her sixties; six men from Fairbanks, including two in their eighties or older, two in their seventies, and two in their fifties; an Anchorage man in his 70s; an Anchorage woman in her sixties; eight women from Wasilla, including three in their eighties or older, one in their seventies, three in their sixties and one in their fifties; six people from Palmer, including three men in their eighties or older, a man and a woman in their seventies, and a woman in their sixties; a Soldotna man in his sixties; a Homer man in his 80s; a woman in her fifties from the Dillingham Census Area; a Kodiak woman in her 80s or older; and a Juneau man in his sixties.
Deaths from COVID-19 are not always immediately reflected in the state’s virus data. Sometimes they don’t appear until health officials review death certificates, a process that can sometimes take several weeks.
Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a doctor determines that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it will be recorded on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, health officials say.
The proportion of COVID-19 testing that returned positive results was 7.69% on a seven-day moving average on Tuesday, down from a peak of 10.9% in mid-October.