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‘Extremely worried’: Anchorage health care officials share grim COVID-19 numbers before Thanksgiving

People lined up at Loussac Library to receive a COVID-19 test.
People lined up at Loussac Library to receive a COVID-19 test.
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 1:40 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - COVID-19 numbers are rising daily, straining public health capacity and are forecasted to impact health care capacity as well, Anchorage Health Department officials said at a press conference Friday.

Even without the possibility of Thanksgiving gatherings, Anchorage contact tracers are no longer able to contact every person with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“Due to the ongoing and prolonged surge of COVID-19 case both locally and statewide, our efforts have had to focus on contacting those who have most recently tested positive so we can provide basic education on what they can do to stop viral spread while still infectious,” said Wendy Williams, a COVID-19 supervisor and contact tracer at AHD.

Dr. Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with AHD, said there has been a 31% increase in cases this week compared to the previous week. Last week, contact tracers we able to interview approximately 80% of new cases registered in their tracing system. This week, only 54% of cases were contacted, as the number of contact tracers remains the same even as COVID-19 cases increase.

If these trends continue, Johnston said there could be further impacts on residents of the municipality and local hospitals. A University of Alaska Anchorage model predicts the municipality could “exceed demand for adult ICU beds in Anchorage by the beginning of next year,” Johnston said. If transmission increases even by a small margin, the municipality will likely exceed the demand for inpatient, non-intensive care unit beds before 2021.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, health care officials are urging residents to stay home unless for food or outdoor recreation. They highlight the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that advised against traveling for Thanksgiving this year.

“Especially this year, the safest place is to stay home,” Dr. Bruce Chandler with AHD said.

Watch: Anchorage Health Department gives a COVID-19 update

Posted by Alaska's News Source on Friday, November 20, 2020

Johnston said she is worried Anchorage will see another jump in numbers in the weeks following Thanksgiving, which could further strain public health and health care capacity.

“Some percentage of all the gatherings will have people who are infected, so I am extremely worried that we are going to see a big bump from people getting together,” Johnston said.

The Municipality of Anchorage has a two-week rate of 109.7 COVID-19 per 100,000 people, which Johnston said was an all-time high. While the municipality has recorded a total of 62 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began, four of those were reported in this week alone.

“With the currency case fatality rate just under half a percent, we expect that 11 of the people newly diagnosed this week will die of a COVID related cause,” Johnston said.

At the press conference, AHD Director Heather Harris said officials were considering more restrictive measures in order to protect health care capacity but has not released further details of what those restrictions may be or when they would be released.

COVID-19 cases are surging throughout the State of Alaska with all regions at high alert levels, the Department of Health and Social Services said in a release Thursday.

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