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A Snapshot Of The Current Y-K Delta COVID-19 Surge

A swab and tube for specimen collection in the lab at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile

COVID-19 cases are again surging in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, but the region is not yet seeing the more extreme pressures on its health care system that more urban areas of the state are experiencing.Over the past week, from Aug. 19 to Aug. 25, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced 172 Covid cases, four hospitalizations, two medivacs, and two deaths. Current case counts are just over a third of the amount the region experienced during its pandemic peak last winter, when YKHC announced on average 66 new cases per day in a two-week span between Nov. 22 and Dec. 4.

YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that it’s too early to tell if the current surge will continue rising.

“We haven’t seen that the case rates are slowing down or starting to peak, so we don’t know where we’re headed with this surge,” Hodges said.

Hodges said that 47%, or a little less than half the active COVID-19 cases in the region, are in children younger than age 12, who are not eligible for vaccination. About a quarter of cases are breakthrough cases in people who have been vaccinated. These cases are rare.

“We’ve vaccinated over 15,000 people in the Delta against COVID. Less than 2% of those people have had a breakthrough case,” Hodges said.

She said that the breakthrough cases are mostly mild and often without symptoms. The severe cases are occurring in people who have not been vaccinated.

“Of the people who’ve had to be medevaced out of region, or hospitalized in region, or who have died, well over 99% of them are unvaccinated people,” Hodges said.

Most of these patients are young; two-thirds of patients medevaced out of YKHC are under age 40.

“It’s very heartbreaking to see that, because this is an entirely preventable condition right now,” Hodges said.

It's preventable through vaccination. About half the eligible population in the region is vaccinated against the virus.

As COVID-19 cases surge across the state, urban health officials warn that the state’s hospital capacity is more stressed than at any point throughout the pandemic.

Hodges said that, so far, YKHC has been able to treat every patient who needs care either in its Bethel hospital or by sending patients to another hospital in-state. With Anchorage hospitals near capacity, YKHC has sent patients to the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks.

“So I think it’s a good reminder to everyone that we’re all responsible for all the things that happen in the state," Hodges said. "I was telling someone recently that I don’t think that people in Fairbanks realize that controlling their outbreak in their city affects what happens in rural Alaska, because that might be our overflow for our intensive care unit beds.”

In Anchorage, hospitals have postponed elective procedures to free up resources and are experiencing longer than usual wait times for emergency room visits. Hodges said that YKHC is not at that point, but it evaluates its capacity daily.

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