Alaska on Wednesday reported its second-highest daily tally of COVID-19 cases as statewide virus hospitalizations reached a new record high for the second day in a row.
There were 801 new coronavirus cases reported Wednesday statewide, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. The only time Alaska recorded more cases in one day was Dec. 4, with 906 cases.
Widespread transmission means it is difficult to pinpoint specific outbreaks, a state epidemiologist said during a public information call Wednesday.
“COVID is everywhere,” said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state health department. “Events where there are people in close proximity to other people, that’s where we’re seeing transmission happen. And when there is so much activity, people can have three or four exposures … and it might not be clear where their source of COVID was.”
By Wednesday, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association was reporting at least 166 people hospitalized with COVID-19 around the state — higher than at any point in the pandemic, including previous surges. On Tuesday, the state reported 152 hospitalized with COVID-19, and over the weekend, 151.
Health officials say Alaska hospitals continue to operate under unsustainable levels of stress, citing severe staff shortages and the recent influx in COVID-19 patients as causing considerable capacity challenges.
Hospitals are reporting lengthy ER wait times, sporadic surgery postponements and an exhausted, burnt-out workforce.
Most recent COVID-19 hospitalizations have occurred among people who are unvaccinated. In July, 80% of virus-related hospitalizations involved people who were not fully vaccinated.
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Four new virus-related resident deaths were also recorded Wednesday, though it was not immediately clear how recently they occurred. In all, 435 Alaskans and 13 nonresidents have died since the pandemic arrived in Alaska in spring 2020.
In Anchorage, amid a communitywide spike in cases, more firefighters are calling in sick with COVID-19, the Anchorage Fire Department said, though specifics were scarce.
”Our workforce is a cross section of our community, and the result of that is an increase in cases within our employees,” assistant chief Alex Boyd said. “We have seen an increase in responders calling in sick with symptoms and an increase in members taking COVID tests as a result of routine pre-work health screening.”
The department did not answer how many cases have been reported among staff, or how many are currently active and in which fire stations.
A rise in use of sick leave time is not having an adverse impact on fire department responses, and no services have been reduced, Boyd said. The department is “benefiting from a high workforce vaccination rate among our first responders,” though the department did not say what the vaccination rate is.
The Anchorage Police Department isn’t seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases or time off among officers that would affect operations, deputy chief Gerard Asselin said. If that did happen, a plan is in place to shift officers on details like traffic and school officers to answer patrol calls, he said.
The department isn’t keeping track of the vaccination rate among officers.
By Wednesday, about 61% of Alaskans 12 and older had received at least one vaccine dose, and 55% were considered fully vaccinated.
Of all tests conducted over the last week, 7.5% came back positive.
Daily News reporter Michelle Theriault Boots contributed.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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