Vaccination clinic

After receiving the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, clinic attendees must wait for 15 minutes before leaving the Carlson Center to make sure they suffer no side effects. 

The state reported 13 more deaths from the past couple of months and a surge in new cases over the weekend, with Fairbanks leading the case count and lagging in vaccinations.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in cases in Fairbanks and the Interior,” said Dr. Mark Simon, an emergency physician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. “And we are seeing it both in the numbers that we get from the state and our local public health officials, and then we’re seeing it at the hospital.”

The Fairbanks North Star Borough saw 102 cases on Saturday alone and is among the highest numbers since the beginning of December. Based on the weekly case average, test positivity rate and hospitalizations, the borough is now in a high-risk zone, according to the borough website. The three-day average for hospitalized Covid patients doubled since last week and is now at 10 people.

“More and more people are coming in sick with Covid-19, and sick enough that they need to stay in the hospital — like people with low oxygen levels,” Simon said. “Initially, it was more common to see people over 65 being

admitted to the hospital, and now we are seeing that younger less than 65 population being admitted more.”

Currently, the youngest Covid-19 patient at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is 46 years old, Kelly Atlee, communications specialists for FMH, wrote in an email to the News-Miner. Statewide, people in their 20s and 30s are currently contracting the virus the most, according to the Alaska Covid-19 Cases Dashboard. 

One of the main risk factors driving the numbers up in the Fairbanks area is indoor time with people, especially without face coverings, Simon said.

“We’ve known for a long time that being outdoors is really where we want to be spending time, especially when we spend it with people unmasked or with individuals we don’t know,” Simon said.

Another major factor for the spike is the slow rate of vaccinations in the Fairbanks region, at around 34%, coming in slightly higher than the Matanuska-Susitna region.

“We’re near the bottom of the vaccination rate compared to the rest of the state — and our disease transmission, our disease prevalence, the amount of Covid-19 we have, is among the highest,” Simon said. 

He explained that the pattern plays out across Alaska: The communities that have the lowest vaccination rates are having the highest degree of Covid-19 infection.

“That’s concerning in and of itself,” Simon said. “It’s even more concerning when you realize that the more disease you have, the more people will get sick, the more people will get so sick that they will need to be in the hospital, the more people are going to develop long Covid and deal with symptoms for weeks or months in a really debilitating fashion, and the more people will die.”

From his practice at the emergency department, Simon noticed that a lot of people in Fairbanks who aren’t vaccinated are planning to do it.

“We are really encouraging people who want to get the vaccine, get it off your to-do list and get it on your already-done list,” he said.

The Carlson Center has vaccination clinics every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and walk-in vaccinations are available. Various local health centers and pharmacies are offering vaccinations as well. To learn more, go to covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322. To make vaccines even more accessible, the borough is developing plans for “pop up” type events, said Lanien Livingston, the public information officer for the borough.

Simon acknowledged that a group of Alaskans and Fairbankans think that “the vaccination isn’t for them.”

“We are just really encouraging them to take a second look because the vaccines are really really effective and safe” he said. “They can help keep people out of the hospital, keep people alive, decrease the transmission rate in our community so that we can get back to not talking about Covid-19 and get back to doing the things we love doing with our friends and family.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.