The Wasilla City Council hosted Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink for an update on COVID-19 in Alaska at their meeting on Monday. Zink participated telephonically and responded to a broad range of questions from the council about vaccines, masks, and other metrics used to track the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska. As of September 7, all persons entering city of Wasilla buildings are required to wear a mask.
“We continue to see that vaccines work well against hospitalization as well as death, but despite that we see a lot of cases as our hospitals continue to be stretched,” said Zink. “Mat-Su hospital as we know is our one hospital in the region, has been stretched quite thin with COVID positive patients recently, having more COVID positive patients now than at any other point in the pandemic. looking at the current tracking board, every [Intensive Care Unit] bed at Mat-Su is full with 36 patients hospitalized because of COVID-19 including 10 patients on a vent and approximately 40 % of all patients in Mat-Su’s hospital are COVID positive at this time.”
Councilwoman Nikki Velock presided over the meeting, and was joined in-person by only Councilman Simon Brown II. Councilman Jordan Rausa was excused as absent and Mayor Ledford participated telephonically as well as Councilmen Tim Burney and Tim Johnson.
“Even though the vaccine is not perfect, it does not prevent all cases, it does not prevent all hospitalizations and deaths, it does an amazing job at minimizing those chances. So if you are vaccinated against COVID-19 you are less likely to get COVID, you are less likely to transmit it to other people, you are less likely to be hospitalized, and you are less likely to die form the disease overall and it’s the safest way to get a degree of immunity,” said Zink. “We are also trying to do what we can to support hospitals and their capacity, including putting in an additional resource request for staffing increase, staffing capacity, look at transferring capacity and capabilities for transferring patients around the state to minimize the burden on any one hospital. But increasingly we are seeing a change in the standard of care that is being offered at hospitals secondary to limited capacity overall.”
Alaska saw a decrease in the daily COVID-19 cases reported on Monday with 277 new cases across the state. There are 22 ICU beds available as 210 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 33 are on ventilators statewide. In the Mat-Su, 52 new cases were reported Monday. At Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, 36 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19 and there are no ICU beds available. There are 10 people on ventilators and 40 % of the entire hospitalized population has tested positive for COVID-19. Velock asked Zink if the vaccines were safe and how they compare to other widely utilized vaccines.
“The vaccines don’t get approved by the FDA if they are not found to be more safe than getting the virus itself and if they are not found to be efficacious, so all three of these vaccines are much much safer than getting COVID-19,” said Zink. “When we look at the population as a whole, it is much safer to get vaccinated than to get COVID-19 without being vaccinated and right now with delta, we are all going to be exposed to COVID in one way or the other if we are interacting with other people. It’s just so transmissible
Zink said that greater than 99 % of all COVID-19 cases in Alaska are attributed to the delta variant, and that masks are still an important tool to be used in the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Following a question from Velock, Zink further elaborated on the limited hospital capacity across Alaska, specifically in the south central region.
“I have been practicing at Mat-Su for 12 years. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. It’s heartbreaking to know that you could be able to provide care for a patient but are unable to provide it because there is not a bed to be able to care for that patient and the staff to go with it and this isn’t just COVID patients, this is strokes, heart attacks, dirt bike accidents, appendicitis, things that normally would not be a big deal to care for. Anchorage has been beyond capacity to care for particularly ICU and dialysis patients. For a couple weeks now they have been on what they call ‘ED divert,’ greater than 90 % of the time for the last two weeks,” said Zink.
Zink noted that those people who test positive for COVID-19 are able to call 646-3322 to discover if they are able to receive treatments of monoclonal antibodies, which have proven to be more effective at curtailing symptoms of the virus the earlier they are used as treatment. Councilman Brown asked about what additional recommendations Zink would support from municipalities.
“This is a hard place in the pandemic honestly from where we’re at. We are all done with COVID, I’m done with COVID, we do not want to take any additional mitigation efforts yet we’re seeing record breaking cases not only in Alaska as well as the Lower 48 and our hospital systems are stretched like they’ve never been before,” said Zink. “When we start to see systems failing is where we ask more people and the public as a whole to step into the space and right now we are starting to see our healthcare system frankly fail under the weight of the patients that we’re seeing.”
Zink said that nearly 90 % of all deaths and nearly 90 % of all cases this year have been attributed to unvaccinated people, and that the average age of a hospitalized person who has not received the vaccine is 14 years younger than someone who was vaccinated and required hospitalization. Following Zink’s presentation, Ledford said that the city had returned to a requirement for masks to be worn inside city buildings. Councilman Johnson asked to add a 30-day sunset to the requirement, but Councilman Brown voiced his opposition to setting a date to remove the requirement.
“You watch your numbers and when they get down to what the staff and the administration feels like is a safe number to be able to operate safely in the buildings and protect not only the staff but our citizens, then is when we make a decision to not wear the mask,” said Ledford.