September was Alaska’s deadliest pandemic month. Here’s what that might tell us about the future of COVID-19 in the state. – .

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September was Alaska’s deadliest pandemic month. Here’s what that might tell us about the future of COVID-19 in the state. – .


In Alaska, at least one COVID-19 death – but typically two or more, and up to 10 – has been reported for each day in September, according to state data.

It was the deadliest month in the pandemic so far, with 138 dead.

September 2021 broke records on several other fronts, including the number of COVID-positive patients in Alaskan hospitals and the number of daily cases. Hospitalizations and the high number of cases continued into October.

Health experts say the darkest, darkest weeks of the pandemic may teach us that without more vaccinations and preventive measures, the potential for a continued surge or a new one persists, and the toll The deadly pandemic will likely continue until cases decrease.

The vaccines – shown to reduce the likelihood of serious illness, hospitalization and death from the virus – have been widely available in the state for months. Local clinics and pharmacies have offered the preventative vaccine free, daily, for much of this year.

But the state’s immunization progress has slowed. On the first day of September, 61.3% of Alaskans over 12 received their first dose of the vaccine. Right now, that number stands at 64.5%, increasing just over three percentage points.

In a weekly report, state health officials said cases were leveling off in several communities. In Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, health officials wrote, there is no clear evidence of an upward or downward trajectory.

“Regardless of trajectories, intense community transmission continues to occur and causes significant disease, death and demand on the health system,” they wrote.

Janet Johnston, a former Anchorage Department of Health epidemiologist, said until more people are vaccinated, the coronavirus will continue to spread.

“We’re going to continue to see high rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Johnston said. “In some ways it feels like, unfortunately, history has not changed the behavior of the virus. It’s more transmissible, but it’s still transmitted the same way.

[Alaska reports 6 deaths, 877 cases Friday as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain near record level]

And while the virus continues to spread at a high rate in Alaska and the rest of the world, there is a chance that it will mutate, she said. Given the amount of virus that is spreading, Johnston said, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be more serious mutations in the future beyond the current delta variant.

“Which, again, is why we need to get people vaccinated and count the cases so that we have less transmission of the virus,” said Johnston.

Given the scale of the case rates, it’s no surprise the state has recorded so many deaths, said Dr Benjamin Westley, who treats COVID-19 patients in Anchorage. Hospitalizations can last for weeks after a person becomes ill, and deaths can be delayed by a month or two.

“September has been a bad month, and unfortunately I think people can expect the next two months to have quite a high number of deaths compared to what we’re used to,” Westley said.

There are a lot of viruses circulating in the state right now. And the virus is particularly bad for those who are not vaccinated, he said.

“There is no way to avoid death when so many unvaccinated people contract COVID,” Westley said.

The state was able to prevent a large number of deaths primarily compared to other states due to its relatively younger population, hospitals that were not overly full, and the lack of large nursing homes. . But that will likely change, Westley said.

“Obviously our death rate among other states is going to increase,” he said. “You can’t have more COVID than any other state for three or four weeks without expecting deaths to increase. “

The recently passed Anchorage ordinance requiring masks in indoor public spaces could help bring down the number of COVID-19. With this type of mitigation occurring in the state’s largest city, cases are expected to start declining over the next week, according to Westley.

There are several exceptions to the Anchorage Emergency Mask Ordinance. Many companies – as well as the city’s city manager – have highlighted these exclusions to employees and / or customers, and questions remain about how the ordinance will be enforced. Mayor Dave Bronson and his administration have opposed the mask mandate, and the city manager’s office is responsible for handling complaints about violations of the mask ordinance.

Responding to a question about the city’s health department plans for the coming months of the pandemic, Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said in an email that the department “will continue to test, vaccinate and strongly encourage treatment with monoclonal antibodies, as well as strongly encourage non-pharmacological attenuations.

“As we’ve seen, the Delta variant is too unpredictable,” Young said.

September’s COVID-19 cases overwhelmed hospitals, a situation the state had largely avoided for many months in previous outbreaks, said Dr. Tom Hennessy, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Alaska Anchorage and former director of the CDC’s Arctic Investigations program.

“It’s been a very difficult time, and it’s pretty clear we’re not at the end of it yet,” he said.

Although it appears that cases have plateaued, they are leveling off at a very high level, which Hennessy says is disheartening given the effectiveness of the vaccines and what we know about the virus. The Alaskans could have made better use of these tools earlier this summer to help mitigate the push, he said.

The state failed to meet its goal of high immunization levels – by the start of the outbreak in early July, only half of eligible Alaskans had been vaccinated.

“It just wasn’t enough. This has left a large portion of the population vulnerable to this new strain, ”Hennessy said.

Many proven pandemic prevention measures have fallen into disuse. People weren’t masking or social distancing like they were earlier in the pandemic.

“It seemed like we had forgotten the lessons we had learned in the first year of the pandemic and were just tired or people were just frustrated, or just ignored what we had learned,” he said. he declares.

It brought Alaska to where we are now.

What does all of this mean for the future? It’s hard to predict, said Hennessy, “but I think one of the things is pretty clear is that at the population level we are still vulnerable in Alaska. “

Vaccination levels are not high enough to stop the spread of the virus. This summer has shown that a large portion of the state’s unvaccinated people are spreading the virus, he said.

“And we’re still in that position,” Hennessy said.

Even assuming that some of the unvaccinated people now have natural immunity to the recent flare-up, Hennessy said there are still enough people without immunity to either continue the current flare-up or create another one if people don’t. do not act. to stop the spread.

“I think this is an important turning point opportunity for Alaska,” he said, “to see if we can get to the point where we can protect ourselves when we have the tools to do so. “

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