ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — Once the most vaccinated state in the nation, Alaska now leads the country in Covid-19 case counts and hospitals are rationing care as vaccinations have stalled and the Delta variant spreads.
For the third time in two weeks the 49th state broke its daily record of cases. Seven new deaths, a record 1,330 new cases and a near-record 209 hospitalizations were reported Thursday, according to a state dashboard. The previous recorded highs were Wednesday, with 1,251 cases, and Sept. 15, with 1,095 cases.
Hospital officials say those numbers do not completely represent the actual impact of Covid-19, since some long-term patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care are not included in the tally.
On Wednesday Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, announced implementation of crisis standards of care statewide. The declaration allows hospitals to ration care due to resource and staffing limitations.
On the same day, Dunleavy also announced the state had signed a contract to bring nearly 500 health care workers from the Lower 48 to Alaska to help with staffing shortages and existing burned-out caregivers. For months hospitals have tried to provide financial incentives for existing workers to take on extra shifts, but burn-out is evident in how few have been enticed by extra pay.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services enabled crisis standards of care using a new addendum to the state’s existing Covid-19 public health order. The state health department also ordered $2 million in rapid at-home testing kits for schools, officials say.
“We want health care providers to know that the state of Alaska is incredibly proud of and grateful for the care they are continuing to provide to Alaskans,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.
“Our health care professionals are accustomed to providing the best care they possibly can for their patients, but resources are now stretched to a point that most of us never expected to see in our careers. Difficult decisions will need to be made over whose care should be prioritized, and we’re here to support our providers to provide the best care for as many patients as possible during these challenging times.”
A combination of short staffing and high numbers of Covid-19 patients is overwhelming medical facilities in the state’s largest hospital hubs of Anchorage, Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks. This makes emergencies at rural hospitals even more dire as they struggle to find an open bed in urban centers that can provide a higher level of care. At least one cardiac patient died recently when a bed in Anchorage wasn’t readily available, according to officials.
Nearly 300 registered nurses and more than 100 certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians, funded through an $87 million contract signed on Tuesday between the state and the federal General Services Administration, will begin arriving next week. A company called DLH Solutions will bring 470 contracted health care workers to facilities around the state, Heidi Hedberg, public health director with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said during a community briefing.
The rollout will begin Monday and will happen in phases to allow the workers to travel to Alaska, receive emergency credentials, undergo a background check and train in fields including cultural competence before being deployed to hospitals in the state, according to Hedberg.
“We are working very closely with the hospital association and their members to prioritize where they go, and where the greatest need is,” Hedberg said.
Alaska’s hospital administrators warned of a pending crisis in late July. Despite the warnings, Dunleavy ruled out a statewide Covid-19 disaster declaration. Also, recently narrowly elected mayor of Alaska’s most populous city of Anchorage, Republican Dave Bronson, refused to enact any mask or other Covid-19 mandates within the municipality. Bronson was elected with just shy of 1,200 votes in a May run-off election with Democratic candidate Forrest Dunbar.