Covid-19 cases keep rising, and the Fairbanks area is back to high alert status with widespread community transmission, along with every other region in the state.
The spread of the more infectious Delta variant, as well as low vaccination rates and a lack of protective measures are contributing to the rise, Dr. Leif Thompson, medical supervisor at Tanana Chiefs Conference, said Monday.
“We all let our guard down, we all thought we were done with that but we are not,” Thompson said. “Everything is open and no one is taking any protective measures like masking, so we end up in the situation where the virus is spreading. We are like a tinderbox.”
The biggest driver of the higher virus transmission is the Delta variant, Thompson said.
“The Delta variant is almost like the new virus because it’s behaving fairly differently than the virus we had before,” he said.
The difference is that the Delta variant is much more infectious than other Covid-19 strains. Besides, people who contract the new variant are becoming infectious up to two days sooner, which makes it hard to contain and track the virus, Thompson said.
“On top of that, we are finding that vaccinated people are becoming infectious too,” Thompson added. “Vaccinated people are not getting as sick and usually don’t get hospitalized but they are able to transmit the virus.”
New case counts
On Monday, the state reported 751 new Covid-19 cases identified over the weekend, with 223 people contracting the virus on July 30, 288 people on July 31, and 240 people on Aug. 1, according to the Monday update from the Department of Health and Social Services.
In the Interior, Fairbanks reported 22 new cases over the weekend and North Pole reported 12. Two more cases were registered somewhere else in Fairbanks North Star Borough, two in Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and one each in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and Salcha.
A big chunk of new cases were identified in the Anchorage area, with Anchorage reporting 283 cases, Wasilla reporting 53, Palmer 20, Chugiak seven, Big Lake five, Chugach Census Area two, and Girdwood and Matanuska-Susitna Borough one each.
Other places with more than 10 new cases include Kenai with 40, Soldotna with 34, Eagle River with 33, Sitka with 27, Juneau with 21, Kodiak with 19, Northwest Arctic Borough with 16 and Prince Of Wales-Hyder Census Area with 11 new cases reported over the weekend.
Fairbanks North Star Borough has the lowest average daily case rate over the two weeks, but it is still high, at 12.40 cases per 100,000 people. The overall statewide rate is 30.3 cases per 100,000 people, and each of the 11 state regions is in red and has wide transmission.
Besides the spike in new cases, Alaska is seeing more hospitalizations. On Monday, 99 people were hospitalized with Covid-19.
“Hospitalizations are going up fast,” Thompson said. “We are approaching the number of hospitalizations that we had last winter in the peak, and we don’t have the same staffing right now, with hospital workers experiencing burnout. We are not as geared up as last winter.”
As of Monday morning, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital had four patients receiving care for Covid-19. Nine beds were available in the ICU, FMH Communications and Public Relations director Kelly Atlee wrote in an email to the News-Miner.
Thompson said that while FMH is not at capacity, there are still concerning surges in the local hospital. Plus, some of the Fairbanks Covid patients need to be sent to Anchorage for more advanced care, and with some Anchorage hospitals being at capacity, several Fairbanks patients needed to be sent out of state.
“This is a really concerning situation,” Thompson said.
One of the best tools to help the hospitals and slow the spread of the virus stays getting a Covid-19 vaccine, Thompson said.
In the Fairbanks area, more than 46% of eligible people are vaccinated, but the number is below 40%, if you include all people.
“It means that 60% of our population is vulnerable to catching the virus and getting sick from the infection,” Thompson said.
To the people who are on the fence about getting a vaccine, Thompson suggested to evaluate its risk and benefits.
“The risk with the vaccines is really low; hundreds of millions of people got vaccinated, and the side effect profile is relatively low,” he explained. “Compare that risk against being in the hospital on the ventilator, struggling for your life and struggling to breathe.”
Thompson recommended people in the Fairbanks area, vaccinated or not, to get tested if they have any Covid-19 symptoms and to mask up at fairs, concerts, grocery and post offices.
“If I have two messages, it’s to mask up and get a vaccine,” Thompson said. “The tools that we have are really powerful.”
Places to get tested include Interior Community Health Center, Tanana Valley Clinic, Medphysicals Plus, Steese Immediate Care and Capstone Clinic. Fairbanks International Airport offers testing for incoming travelers, Chief Andrew Isaac Clinic provides the service to beneficiaries, and Bassett Army Hospital tests those serving active duty and retirees.
To get a vaccine, people can visit Fairbanks Cancer Care Physicians on Monday evenings, North Pole Plaza on Mondays, Fridays and Wednesdays and Fairbanks International Airport on any day. Tanana Valley State Fair also hosts vaccination clinics.
For more information about testing and vaccines, call Capstone at 907-864-4642, FCCP at 907-452-4768 and Fairbanks Public Health at 907-452-1776.
Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.