Alaska broke several daily records for the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths on Friday, but public health officials said the high numbers were at least in part due to backlogs of data.
The backlogs in data entry mean that the nearly 1,800 new cases reported on Friday were swelled by several hundred older cases, health officials said.
“This does not diminish the fact that we continue to see a huge spread of COVID in our communities,” Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska, said on a call with media.
The 41 deaths of Alaskan residents from COVID-19 reported on Friday mainly occurred last month, officials said. A few took place even earlier this year and had yet to be included in the tally due to a cyberattack that hampered the state’s death certificate record-keeping system.
But, a record 217 hospitalizations reported on Friday was not part of the data backlog and represented the growing number of people sick enough with COVID-19 to need hospital care in Alaska.
Over the past month, the state recorded its “highest incidence of cases we have ever seen, straining our public health infrastructure, our hospitals, our businesses and our economy,” Zink said.
The majority of the 44 deaths reported on Friday – including 41 residents and three non-residents – were deaths that occurred in August and were identified through a standard review of death certificates, officials said on Friday.
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Government agencies rely on death certificates to report deaths from COVID-19. If a doctor judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, according to the DHSS.
Some deaths are reported directly to the state, while others are less clear than others and take longer to verify, epidemiologist Dr Louisa Castrodale said.
“The hospitals will call us and say, ‘Hey, we had this unfortunate death, we really think it’s COVID, and we’re bringing it to you,'” she explained.
“The hospitals will also call us and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this person that’s passed away. There’s a lot going on with this person, we don’t really know what the provider will ultimately put on the death certificate. So for those, we are waiting, ”she said.
Ultimately, every state-reported COVID-19 death has a death certificate that lists COVID-19 as the cause of death, and each goes through a rigorous verification process, Castrodale said.
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About a dozen of the deaths reported Friday occurred in the spring; for those, reporting was delayed by a cyber attack in May that targeted the state’s health department, leaving several of its systems offline for months, officials said.
Continuously high numbers of COVID-19 patients continue to overwhelm healthcare facilities across the state.
Record hospitalizations and long emergency wait times
By Friday, a status dashboard reported a new record of 217 people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 – higher than at any time during the pandemic and well above the peak of last winter.
Hospitals say their numbers are likely an underestimate of the true impact of COVID-19, as they are not including some long-term COVID-19 patients who no longer test positive but still need hospital care.
Earlier this week, state officials announced they would implement statewide crisis care standards, a worst-case scenario that requires hospitals to ration care due to limitations in resources and personnel.
Hospitals across the state continue to report long emergency room wait times, delayed procedures and limited transfers, and in at least one case the death of a patient who was unable to access emergency care. timely.
The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Alaska are unvaccinated people.
In August in Alaska, state data showed residents were 8.3 times less likely to require hospitalization if they were vaccinated than if they were not, Zink said Friday.
Friday’s new record of 1,793 new cases of the virus – including 1,735 among residents and 58 non-residents – followed Thursday’s previous record of 1,330 cases plus seven deaths.
A few hundred of the cases reported on Friday were from positive test results last week and the week before as well as a few even before that, Castrodale said. She estimated that once the state has exhausted its backlog, it expects to see around 1,000 cases per day.
As the state found ways to automate new cases, it was able to dig into older case reports and catch up, Castrodale said.
Delays in reporting data make it difficult to compare daily counts, and Zink said it may be more useful to look at the overall trend each week. She pointed out that throughout the month of September, the state recorded its highest number of cases.
Delays are also coming from a variety of locations, officials said, including some overwhelmed testing facilities sending out all of their results for several days at a time, as well as limited staff amid a crush of new cases.
“There’s only a limited number of people on the team, so we’re doing our best to fit it in,” Zink said.
Alaska’s per capita case rate remains the highest in the country – and about three times the national average, according to a New York Times tracker.
Statewide, 9.23% of tests performed in the past week yielded positive results.
Among eligible Alaskans aged 12 and over, 62.8% had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 58.5% were considered fully vaccinated on Thursday.
The deaths involved residents statewide, including 11 from Anchorage, six from Wasilla, four from Fairbanks, three from Ketchikan, three from Juneau, two from Soldotna, two from Bethel, one from Homer, one from the Pole North, one from Tok, one from Big Lake, one from Petersburg, one from Palmer, one from Kenai, one from Willow, one from a small community in the Northwestern Arctic Borough and one from Sitka.
Fairbanks has also recorded three deaths of non-residents.
Of those who died, almost half were 70 or older. Fourteen were in their fifties or sixties, two in their forties, two in their thirties and two in their twenties.
A total of 514 residents and 18 non-residents of the state have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic.