KYUK AM

ICU Beds In Alaska Hitting Limits

Sep 30, 2020

A healthcare provider, wearing several types of personal protective equipment that is being tracked by the State of Alaska, provides care on April 7, 2020 for a woman hospitalized in an isolation room in the critical care unit of Bartlett Hospital in Juneau, Alaska.
Credit Rashah McChesney / KTOO

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the rest of the state are beginning to hit the limits of hospital care for cases of COVID-19. 

YKHC, which does not have an Intensive Care Unit at the Bethel hospital, had to keep a patient that needed to be in the ICU for an extra day before sending them on to Anchorage because there were no available beds in the larger city.

“This was an ICU-level patient, and all the ICU beds in Anchorage were full,” said YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges. “So we’ve already reached, I think, the limits of our capacity of the healthcare of the state. So it makes some of these mitigation strategies more important.”

Hodges shared that information with Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Kimberly Hankins in an interview that was aired on KYUK Wednesday, Sept. 30.  Hodges said that YKHC has mitigation measures prepared to open up more beds and increase capacity at the Bethel hospital to the extent to which they are capable.

National Statistics released by the Center for Disease Control indicate that young people have become more prone to get the coronavirus though most do not suffer the extreme illness that someone older might experience. Hodges says the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities are seeing a bit of that trend. Thirty percent of the region’s cases are under age 18. The majority [70%] are under age 40. Hodges notes that the area’s population is younger than elsewhere in the country. 

The Lower Kuskokwim School District has several communities where education is being provided entirely remotely because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Dr. Hodges says the level of infection in villages, and in Bethel, need to improve for schools to reopen. YKHC recommends two weeks without community spread of the virus as an indication that schools can reopen.

“For Bethel, which is one of the towns with community spread, our last community spread case was about ten days ago,” says Hodges. “So we think it might be possible, if we don’t get any more cases through the rest of this week, we could consider having the conversation about going back down to medium risk.”

The standard is much higher in communities like Anchorage, which is a hot spot for the coronavirus. There, Hodges explained, the Anchorage School district wants to see a month free of community spread of the virus. “Medium risk” means that school would happen with a mix of classroom and remote learning.

Hodges recommends people not go to parties and indoor meetings with large groups of people to keep their social circles small. She also recommends wearing masks, keeping social distance, and cleaning and sanitizing.