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Omicron is driving a steep incline in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Y-K Delta, especially for children

 On Feb. 2, 2022, YKHC reported 910 active COVID-19 cases spread across 40 communities.
Elyssa Loughlin
On Feb. 2, 2022, YKHC reported 910 active COVID-19 cases spread across 40 communities.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta remains in its highest ever surge of new COVID-19 cases. Cases in the region have been increasing every week since the start of 2022, driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant. As cases have climbed, so have hospitalizations, especially for children.

“We saw about triple the number of cases the first week of January, and that came close to about tripling the week after that, and then it’s just slightly, steadily increased ever since then,” said Brian Lefferts, Director of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC). Lefferts spoke on KYUK’s "Wellness Wednesday" on Feb. 2.

YKHC admitted six patients for COVID-19 over the past seven days. The current trend puts the hospital on track to hospitalize more COVID-19 patients with omicron than previous variants.

Also speaking on "Wellness Wednesday," YKHC Director of Infection Control Dr. Elizabeth Bates said that a higher proportion of children are being hospitalized during this omicron surge compared to previous surges. In January, over two times more children were admitted for COVID-19 than in any prior month. Some were infants younger than a year old. Children younger than five are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. Bates said that it’s another reason to take precautions.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why do we have to wear masks?’ Why I wear a mask is to protect these vulnerable patients. A 6-month-old can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19, but they can certainly be hospitalized for it, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Bates said.

Bates also encouraged everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated and boosted, and to get tested if they develop symptoms. Any of those actions can protect children and others who are vulnerable. Omicron tends to produce less severe effects in most people than previous variants, but is more contagious. And many people are still getting very sick.

As of Feb. 2, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta had 910 active COVID-19 cases spread across 40 communities, according to YKHC. Lefferts said that he suspects that the true case count is even higher, because not all test results are getting into the health corporation’s reports.

“There’s widespread use of home tests right now, which is wonderful. We ask people to report those to us, but not everybody is going to. So I’m sure there are a lot more cases,” he said.

Also, Lefferts said, some of the region’s smaller communities do not have full-time YKHC staff doing regular testing, which could also lead to an undercount of overall cases.

Other areas of the country, like the East Coast, saw a decline in cases about a month after their omicron surge began. Lefferts hopes a similar drop will occur in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, but there’s no indication of that happening yet.

Anna Rose MacArthur served as KYUK's News Director from 2015-2022.
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