Dr. Anne Zink and Dr. Michael Alter prepare to give COVID-19 vaccines Dec. 18, 2020, at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. 

As the calendar year comes to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic is also nearing a much more gradual end.

Healthcare workers around the country, to include physicians in the Mat-Su Valley, have begun being vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. On Dec. 18, Dr. Michael Alter vaccinated a handful of healthcare workers including an emergency department physician he hired over a decade ago, current Chief Medical Officer for the state of Alaska Dr. Anne Zink. Alter also delivered the shot of vaccine to Talkeetna physician Dr. Paul Forman, who works at Sunshine Community Health Center.

“It’s awesome, my life was just saved,” said Forman to Alter. “Oh my gosh, thanks for saving my life.”

In total, Alaska has 43,629 cases of COVID-19 as of Dec. 25. There have been 198 deaths of Alaskan residents due to COVID-19 and 90 are currently hospitalized statewide, accounting for 10.4 percent of all hospitalized patients in Alaska. Early on in the pandemic, preparations began at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center to get ready for the arrival of the virus, which made its appearance in earnest in late November.

“There’s this kind of palpable feel that you get in the emergency department when somethings changing,” said Zink. “When we started to see covid pick up here it was just a palpable difference. You knew something was different because it’s not just one person with shortness of breath, it’s like case after case after case.”

Zink noticed that with the uptick of severe cases of COVID-19 the hospital staff became effected and processes were slowed due to the high volume of patients and the donning and disposing of fresh gowns as they enter and exit each room.

“I remember I had not worked for a couple months because I had taken off a bit more time while the pandemic was going, there was a lot to do with the state but iI really really missed clinical medicine and my first patient that I saw back was a person whose heart had actually stopped in the field and came in and so I needed to put a breathing tube in, and chest compressions, and all these procedures that are really aerosolizing and can really spread covid and it was nerve racking on what that looked like, and to walk into that space and into that room and fortunately they did very very well, but it’s hard to go into every shift thinking am I going to get it and then bring it home to my family.”

Dr. Tom Quimby chaired the COVID-19 task force at MSRMC and prepared the hospital for the inevitable rush of patients sick with the coronavirus. Last week, 402 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine arrived in 67 vials. The approval of the Moderna vaccine was announced next week, which will also bolster vaccinating all the way through Tier 3 of the Department of Health and Social Services plan.

“The advanced preparations we made have been instrumental in protecting staff and patients. The emergency department structurally changed the way patients are received into the hospital and the flow of patient care; creating segregated patient waiting areas for those with respiratory ailments, and increasing the number of isolation rooms and negative-air pressure rooms. This greatly reduces the risk of spreading the infection. The ER staff also began using a higher level of protective masks at all times,” said Emergency Services Director Kurstin Svoboda.

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