The number of COVID-19 patients in Alaska’s hospitals has been steadily growing for weeks

A healthcare provider, wearing several types of personal protective equipment that is being tracked by the State of Alaska, provides care on April 7, 2020, for a woman hospitalized in an isolation room in the critical care unit of Bartlett Hospital, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The number of Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19 or under investigation has risen slightly over the past few weeks and currently stands at 32. While the increase in hospitalizations has been gradual, emergency rooms in Anchorage say they’re seeing a marked increase in patients with symptoms of the disease in the last week.

Dr. David Scordino, director of the emergency department at Alaska Regional Hospital, says that it’s hard to quantify the rise in the number of patients, but he says it’s noticeable. And he’s seen the demographics of patients shift.

“The trends we’re seeing are fitting with that national trends of increasing numbers in the 20s and 30s,” he said. “But the hospitalizations remain in the slightly older range.”

Patients who come in with COVID symptoms are tested and get their tests back within an hour to a couple days, but there are still delays in reporting on the state’s dashboard. Speaking at a media event Thursday Dr. Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state of Alaska, says there are also other reasons hospitalization data could be delayed.

“It could be that that person tests, goes home, starts to feel crummy and then later is hospitalized, and so we might not know about that hospitalization and it might not necessarily occur right in the beginning of that person’s illness and so there could be a lag on that,” she said.

While hospitals are better prepared with PPE and capacity than they were during the first rise in case counts in April and May, there are still concerns related to the statewide spread of the disease, as cases continue to mount.

Dr. Robert Onders is the medical director at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says his hospital is preparing an alternative care site to free up bed space for COVID-19 patients for the tribal health system if a statewide surge hits.

“I think as our capacity becomes challenged that has ripple effects in rural Alaska,” he said. “We want to keep our capacity available so that rural hospitals can transfer patients that need to come into Anchorage for other care and stay within the tribal health system.”

Alaska reported another day of high case counts with 75 new cases reported today with a third of those coming in Anchorage. Doctors are still expecting a bump in cases related to the Fourth of July holiday on top of the surge that is already underway. That spike could be seen by next week or as far away as August, experts say.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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