Central Peninsula Hospital Pharmacy Technician Jessica Hulet rolls a cart carrying doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine into Central Peninsula Hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Hospitals busier and busier amid COVID spike

Close to 70% of Alaska’s hospital beds are full amid another surge in COVID-19 cases, and health care workers are feeling the heat of the fourth wave.

During a press briefing Thursday, officials from the state Department of Health and Social Services once again emphasized the importance of vaccination as COVID continues to spread throughout the state.

“This always tends to be a busy time in the state of Alaska, in the hospitals in general,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Thursday. “On top of that, the health care sector is exhausted. This has been a really long pandemic for all of us, but particularly for health care workers who have seen this up front, day by day.”

About 68% of regular adult hospital beds and 69% of adult intensive care unit beds are currently occupied, according to state data. The beds’ occupants include both people with and without COVID-19.

The state announced 526 new positive COVID cases Wednesday — which included 34 on the Kenai Peninsula — and two new resident deaths.

One was a Soldotna man in his 70s, the other an Anchorage man in his 70s.

Central Peninsula Hospital External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Wednesday that 11 of the 12 COVID-positive patients hospitalized were unvaccinated.

The Soldotna death reported by the state happened at CPH, and another patient was flown to Seattle for a “higher level of care.”

As of Thursday, the DHSS reported another 137 cases of the delta strain, which is considered a “variant of concern and 100% more transmissible than the original Wuhan virus.”

Officials on Thursday also said the pandemic isn’t comparable to other illnesses or accidents that cause hospitalization and death, because of the virus’ ability to increase at an exponential rate.

Dr. Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist with the state, said the pandemic won’t come to an abrupt end.

“COVID is sort of like a moving train, you know,” he said. “It’s slow to accelerate and then it’s slow to slow down. There’s a concern that we’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. … We could just see this growth that’s hard to kind of abruptly stop.”

Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a staff physician with the state, said she witnessed the fourth wave in her clinical shifts last week.

“It’s devastating, as a provider, to watch,” she said. “Patients come into the emergency department when we know we have vaccines available. So as a provider who’s worked in emergency medicine in Alaska for 19 years, I want to encourage all my fellow Alaskans to consider getting vaccinated.”

The majority of cases are now among younger people, ages 20 to 39, according to DHSS data. But nearly 6,000 kids in the state under 10, who are ineligible to be vaccinated, have contracted the virus since the pandemic began.

“To date (there) has been reported to us 17 cases of kids who have been hospitalized from COVID-19,” Zink said Thursday. “Some of them quite sick and require intubation, some less.”

She said that is part of the reason officials are urging eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to reduce the chances of severe illness and hospitalization. Because if cases continue to climb, the state’s health care system will be exhausted even further.

“So if we could have those beds available for the trauma patient instead of a COVID-positive patient right now, that would be fantastic,” Zink said. “It’s a series of things that are adding up at the same time.”

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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