COVID-19 is crippling this state right now. Is it yours?

Despite leading the country in COVID-19 vaccinations just a few months ago, the state of Alaska is now seeing a surge in hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients. As a result, officials in Alaska granted crisis-care standards for hospitals to prioritize these patients first as supplies are seeing a major strain.

It’s a dire development for a state that has been hit the hardest by the Delta train of the coronavirus. “Our case counts are rising,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said at a Wednesday news conference. “It’s impacting our hospital capacity and the ability to get the care that you need.”

The circumstances are reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic in many cities across the nation, when a lack of clinical resources made COVID-19’s lethality high among young, otherwise healthy populations.

Delta induces more severe disease in unvaccinated patients, in addition to causing some who are vaccinated to test positive.

Alaska was one of the most successful states in the U.S with respect to vaccine rollout only a few short months ago. Its sharp decline speaks to the unpredictable nature of the most sophisticated pathogen in recent memory.

Delta is changing the way clinicians address COVID-19

The Delta variant, first identified in India around December 2020, has since become the world’s dominant coronavirus strain. As of the time of this writing, the new strain has appeared in roughly 185 countries.

Alaska reported a single-day record of new cases on Wednesday, with 1,224 testing positive for Delta, specifically. This sharp increase in cases comes with the added effect of keeping those suffering from other conditions from receiving adequate clinical care. Roughly one-fifth of Alaska’s hospital patients are infected with COVID-19,

“The Delta variant is crippling our healthcare system. It’s impacting everything from heart attacks to strokes to our children if they get in a bike accident,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer explained.

Idaho was the first state to authorize the prioritization of patients when their health systems became blindsided by a spike in case numbers.

Earlier this week, the FDA authorized a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster shot for people 65 and older and adults at risk of severe illness.

Why is Alaska experiencing so many Delta cases?

Although Alaska once boasted some of the most robust vaccine statistics in the country, the state fell below the national average in the weeks leading up to this crisis point.

Approximately, 58% of Alaska’s residents above the age of 12 are vaccinated.

Some have suggested this may be a consequence of increasing resistance to vaccine mandates and general public health requirements.

Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson has been outspoken about his refusal to get a vaccine, in addition to opposing vaccine mandate initiatives. Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city so this could have had an impact on the population.

Crisis standards of care

Officials are permitted to implement disruptions to traditional clinical practices under crisis standards of care initiatives. These are actions taken to make sure resources that are important to a population’s overall health are made available to its most vulnerable members.

Put more starkly, crisis standards allow health care providers to make judgment calls about who gets access to live-saving therapeutics, like ventilators.

Alaska’s health and social services commissioner Adam Crum signed an emergency addendum that will extend to the whole state standards of crisis care announced last week.

“Care has shifted in Alaska’s hospitals. The same standard of care that was previously there is no longer able to be given on a regular basis. This has been happening for weeks,” Zink continued.

The fear is that Alaska serves as a prelude for the nation if there isn’t a more unified response to the Delta variant.

Read more about the vaccine and natural immunity debate here.