Alaska is among a handful of states with the worst rates of COVID-19 infection in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, due to a backlog in entering test data, those numbers could actually be worse than current daily reports indicate, as staff with the state health department struggle to keep up with the number of daily test results.
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale put the backlog in the “thousands” but wouldn’t give a specific number on Thursday, saying that some of the case reports might be duplicates.
“I don’t think the backlog changes the fact that there’s urgency with this surge,” Castrodale said during a conference call with reporters. “I think the bottom line is there’s a lot of activity, the hospitals are strained, everyone’s strained, schools are strained. If we didn’t have a backlog and we were still with this situation with elevated numbers, I think we should still be worried.”
Alaska’s 93 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents is the fourth highest in the country, tied with South Carolina and behind West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, according to a data analysis by the New York Times.
Public health officials continue to sound the alarm that Alaska’s hospitals are overburdened with coronavirus patients, causing anyone seeking help at emergency rooms to wait longer.
Providence Alaska Medical Center’s Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said hospital staff are doing their best to stay on top of the surge but feel the strain. And she shared a personal story:
“I had a family member two days ago who needed to go on a ventilator,” Rabinowitz said. “It was not COVID-related, and it was my first time in almost 20 years of practicing that I had to actually have the thought go through my head, ‘I hope there’s a ventilator available.’ So those are the things we’re struggling with right now across the state.”
The state Thursday reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases, after setting a record high Wednesday. Out of 120 Intensive Care Unit beds in Alaska, 106 were reportedly occupied.
The state’s rate of vaccination ranks 32nd out of 50 in the U.S.
State health officials on Thursday urged residents to mask up and to social distance but said, ultimately, the best, long-term way to prevent another surge is to get vaccinated.