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Community Perspective

Are we OK in Alaska amid the virus outbreak? No

Over the past month, decision-makers, stakeholders, and media have routinely inquired about “hospital capacity” in light of increasing COVID-19 case counts. The real question being asked is, “Are we OK?” The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association has been answering this question as any hospital would: We look at our daily census report (patients in a hospital bed), consider any relevant variables and comment where we stand with capacity at the given moment.

The good news is capacity has been strong and intact. In general, intensive care unit capacity is consistently open, vent utilization is low and medical/surgical occupancy is very manageable. However, does this really answer the question, “Are we OK?”

Hospital capacity is crucial, but it is finite and a lagging indicator for where we as a public stand with COVID-19. We had 116 new cases recently in one day, 78 the day prior, and 55 before that. A lot has changed from just one month ago when it was concerning to see 20 positive cases in a day.

So, are we OK? The answer is no.

Simple math dictates where this all leads. We have seen this play out in Florida, Arizona, Texas, New York and the list goes on. There is a direct correlation between positive case counts in a community and the risk for nursing home outbreaks. Unchecked case counts will lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths, and we will be brought to a breaking point.

Yes, we have hospital beds open, and we have surge plans ready to deploy. However, our health care heroes are not immune to COVID. If our frontline caretakers get infected, which they will, we could build hundreds of hospitals overnight and it will not make a difference.

COVID-19 is exhausting, and we all wish it would go away, and no one wants to go back into lockdown. Unfortunately, rapidly increasing case counts and basic math tell us we are headed right back to lockdown if we do not change. If you want to avoid this, wear a mask, limit your contact, stop participating in large gatherings and move away from unsafe activities.

Hospital capacity is intact for today, but unless we change the way we handle this as a people, it won’t be tomorrow.

Jared Kosin, J.D., M.B.A., is president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. The association represents more than 65 hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care organizations.

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