There aren't many patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 at Bartlett Regional Hospitals, seen here on Wednesday, July 28, 2021, but health officials are urging Alaksans to get vaccinated as a flood of new cases is straining health care systems in other parts of the state. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Officials encourage vaccination as hospitals in state near capacity

Hospitalizations are low in Juneau, but there’s concern about a surge

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date of the Alaska Hospital and Nursing Home Association news conference. The meeting was Tuesday, July 27, not Wednesday. This article has been updated to reflect the change. The Empire regrets the error.

State and local health officials are urging increased diligence from Alaskans in combating the spread of COVID-19 after hospital leaders voiced concern about the growing number of cases.

The Alaska Hospital and Nursing Home Association held a news conference Tuesday along with several other health organizations to express their concern over the rising number of cases in the state and the effect on local hospitals.

“We do not do this lightly,” said Jared Kosin, ASHNHA president. “Hospitals are not built or designed to be half full.”

As of Monday, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached December levels and health care systems are more fragile than they were last year. There are fewer staff, Kosin said, and many of the staff that remain are burned-out.

Kosin and other health care officials strongly urged Alaskans to get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and to get tested if they feel symptomatic, even the vaccinated.

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a statement urging Alaskans to use good judgment and practice common safety measures to reduce unneccesary hospitalizations amid strain on the health care system.

“There are many everyday actions we all can take to ensure the personal safety of ourselves and our neighbors,” Dunleavy said in a statement, “including driving safely, using the right protective gear when operating power tools and machinery, wearing a life jacket…as well as choosing to take advantage of a free COVID-19 vaccine, which I have done.”

Hospitals in Anchorage are seeing an increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19, according to Dr. Bob Onders, administrator of the Alaska Native Medical Center, who said at the news conference hospitals were seeing an increase in COVID cases in addition to regular emergency room services.

Bartlett Regional Hospital is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, according to Liesel Bland, the house supervisor on duty, but isn’t seeing the kind of capacity problems hospitals in Anchorage are.

But the hospital is still providing regular services including elective surgeries, Bland said and an increase in COVID cases would limit Bartlett’s ability to address other issues. Bartlett Regional Hospital currently has two patients with COVID-19, Bland said, and the hospital has the ability to convert more space to care for COVID-19 patients, if needed.

“The more cases in town, the odds are they are going to need medical attention they can’t get at home,” Bland said. “Our biggest concern here is if we have a run of COVID and we’re already full.”

Health officials are attributing the rise in cases to the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 and said that while both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people are testing positive, the majority of those needing medical attention and recently reported deaths hadn’t yet received the vaccine.

Alaska Regional Hospital CEO Jennifer Opsut said patients there were mostly unvaccinated and younger than patients they’ve seen in the past.

On Wednesday, 14 new cases were reported in Juneau and the Department of Health and Social Services reported 376 statewide, 38 of which were nonresidents.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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