There appears to be a grave disconnect in Fairbanks between the current risks and health consequences of the Covid situation and the attitude among many community members that the danger has passed and the pandemic is over.

The challenge now is to focus on the threat and encourage people to get vaccinated and not pay attention to the news about what is happening elsewhere in the nation.

There is an alarming surge in Covid cases in Fairbanks, which is putting the health system at risk and raising questions about whether Fairbanks Memorial Hospital will have the resources to cope.

“The number of Covid positive inpatients at FMH yesterday was higher than we have seen throughout the entire pandemic. These patients are younger (we have patients in their 20s) much sicker and taking longer, sometimes 2-3 weeks in the hospital, to recover,” Foundation Health Partners said in a Tuesday morning note.

“This is worrisome for several reasons: The sicker the patients are, the greater the risk that they may not recover. A two-three week stay for patients limits the number of beds that are available for new patients.”

“We are close to ‘divert’ status based on lack of additional respiratory equipment. This means as new patients need to be admitted, for any kind of care (heart attack, broken leg, etc.), they will be assessed for our capacity to provide care to them and they might need to be medevac’d to an Anchorage or Seattle hospital. This creates a serious hardship for patients and families – it puts them in an unfamiliar environment for care, limits the support they can get from their friends and family, and it can be extremely expensive for the patient.”

“Many Covid patients require high flow ventilation as a necessary treatment and we have a limited number of these oxygen delivery units. We are currently trying to get more, but they are in limited supply, so far we’ve not obtained any additional units.”

“As a community, Fairbanks has highest rate of positive cases—more than any other region in the state. Additionally, the Interior has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. Last week, the Fairbanks North Star Borough was one of the top 10 counties/boroughs in the entire United States with the highest number of new Covid cases.”

On a Tuesday evening Covid update featuring doctors from the Fairbanks area, some expressed optimism and hope that community attitudes are starting to change and that more people are recognizing the urgency of the matter.

They encouraged people to reach out to those who have not been vaccinated and suggest that they do so because it is critical to lowering the rate of illness in Fairbanks. Dr. Angie Ramirez said that health care professionals are working exceptionally hard to deal with the surge, but they are working together and “in some ways the morale’s never been better, even as people are really tired.”

“It’s just really cool seeing people come together. I just wish we could be doing that as a community to get the rates down,” she said.

Dr. Mishelle Nace said that having community members talking to their friends and neighbors about getting vaccinated and slowing the spread of the disease is critical.

Dr. Laura Brunner sounded a similar note.

“Think about how we as a Fairbanks community can work together both to decrease our COVID spread and increase our vaccination rate,” said Brunner. “It’s scary as a lifelong Fairbanksan to be thinking about our hospital not being able to take care of our community members because we’re too full. And as Dr. Ramirez said, I hope we don’t get to that place, and I hope we never have to cross that bridge, but I can tell you, having that conversation in the last week is a place I don’t think any of us want to be.”

“We have the power to change that amongst ourselves,” Brunner said.

Dr. Andrew Cox said he believes that more people are starting to get the message and reported an increase in patients seeking vaccinations Tuesday night at the Fairbanks Cancer Care Center.

Dermot Cole, a longtime columnist and reporter from Fairbanks, writes about Alaska politics and other topics on his blog Reporting From Alaska, which can be found at www.dermotcole.com.

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