KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Continuing a recent trend of sustained double-digit case counts, Ketchikan Public Health officials logged 21 new COVID-19 cases on Monday as the community's cumulative COVID-19 case count rose past 1,100.
A total of 28 cases remained under investigation as to source as of early Tuesday evening, according to the virus data dashboard maintained by public health officials. Between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Ketchikan Public Health linked 18 cases to close contact, three cases to community spread and categorized one case as lost to contact.
As of Tuesday evening, 119 cases were considered active in Ketchikan, a rise from 105 active cases on Monday. Two people were hospitalized in the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center COVID-19 unit, according to the dashboard.
Since the start of the pandemic in Ketchikan, 1,102 cases have been counted in the community, according to the dashboard information, including 549 cases involving close contact to a positive, 167 travel-related cases, 209 cases of community spread, 88 cases linked to a congregate setting, 61 considered lost to contact and 28 still under investigation.
Ketchikan also recorded it's highest-ever seven-day average daily case rate per 100,000 population, 935.88, on Tuesday — up from 862.76, the dashboard showed. The average daily case rate measured for Ketchikan on Tuesday was more than nine times the baseline to be categorized as at the high risk level by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Ketchikan High School is set to reopen to in-person learning on Wednesday after a COVID-19 related closure that took effect Monday morning, while Schoenbar Middle School on Tuesday evening announced the second positive COVID-19 case linked to the school since Friday.
The Schoenbar case involves a "member of the Schoenbar Middle School family," according to a notice posted on the school website Tuesday evening.
"This individual did attend school on Tuesday, August 31st and is working with KGBSD nurses and public health to identify any possible close contacts," the notice stated. "At this time, known close contacts from school have been contacted by SMS administration."
Any other close contacts will be reached by school district or public health officials.
Kayhi will reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to an afternoon email sent from Principal Jason House to Kayhi students and families.
Activities and sports practices also will resume on Wednesday, according to the notice from House.
Between Friday and Monday morning, five cases of COVID-19 had been connected to Kayhi.
In a follow-up email to the Daily News on Tuesday, House wrote that he had not been notified of any additional positive cases linked to the school since the Monday morning closure through Tuesday afternoon.
Statewide case information
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services tallied 634 new COVID-19 cases and six virus-related deaths on Monday, while the number of hospitalized COVID-19 positive people hit a record high.
Four of the deceased were Alaskans, and two were nonresidents, according to a Tuesday afternoon case summary from DHSS. All six deaths were described as "recent" in the summary.
The resident deaths included an Anchorage woman in her 20s, an Anchorage woman in her 30s, a Dillingham Census Area man in his 60s and an Anchorage man in his 70s.
The nonresident deaths involved two men in their 70s in Anchorage, according to DHSS.
Of the total cases charted by DHSS on Monday, 601 were Alaska residents and 33 were nonresidents.
Areas to record 10 or more new resident cases on Monday included Anchorage (148), Wasilla (63), Juneau (59, Palmer (39), Ketchikan (26), the Bethel Census Area (24), Kenai (23), Eagle River (21), Fairbanks (19), Kodiak (17), Soldotna (15), the Nome Census Area (12), Chugiak (11), and Utqiagvik (10).
Other Southeast communities with new resident cases included Douglas (four) and the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area (one), according to DHSS.
Nonresident cases were recorded in Juneau (10); Anchorage (six); Kodiak and the Denali Borough (three each); Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Soldotna and Wasilla (three apiece); and Seward (one). Two cases were still being investigated as to location.
According to DHSS on Tuesday, 152 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases around the state by midnight Monday — a high not seen before in Alaska during the pandemic.
An additional four people were hospitalized on Monday and suspected of having COVID-19, bumping the total number of virus-related hospitalizations in Alaska on Monday to 156. Nineteen individuals also were using ventilators while hospitalized, per DHSS.
Jared Kosin, director of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, told the Daily News on Tuesday afternoon that the hospitalizations recorded by DHSS on Monday eclipsed the previous all-time high of 151 COVID-19 hospitalizations seen in December. Kosin said that on Friday, DHSS counted 151 on both Friday and Saturday, meeting the record, before surpassing it on Monday.
Kosin said that to lower hospitalizations around the state, Alaskans should be aware of the worsening situations in hospitals.
"People need to understand that our hospitals and even nursing homes and caregivers and anyone in health care right now, is under substantial stress," Kosin said. "And it's really challenging, because unless you go to a hospital, unless you're really in this situation, or unless you know someone who's in this situation, you're not going to see it, and you're not going to feel it. But the fact is, our facilities are in chaos trying to keep up what is being thrown at them."
Kosin continued, "Almost all COVID hospitalizations are unvaccinated, we're at new levels that we've never seen before, and on top of that, our facilities have more patients in house than we did last December when we went through this."
Kosin also said that "no one knows when we're going to hit the ceiling" when it comes to hospitalizations.
"Maybe we're hitting the ceiling right now," he commented. "Maybe we still have a few weeks left. If things continue accelerating, we will hit our breaking point. It is not sustainable to be running at this pace for long periods of time."
Alaskans should receive a COVID-19 vaccination, follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and wear a mask, according to Kosin, who also said that Alaskans need to "act like we're in a crisis," which is how he characterized Alaska's hospital system.
"It's as simple as that and other basic mitigation measures," Kosin explained. "If you're feeling helpless, there's something you can do. The CDC tells us, or recommends wearing a mask inside for indoor settings. Wear a mask indoors, even if you're vaccinated right now. And if we all do that and come together over the next 30 to 60 days, it can make a significant dent in the acceleration."
He also advocated for showing gratitude to health care workers.
"I know ... people throw the term hero all around a lot, but what is happening on the front lines by our caregivers is unbelievable and they deserve attention," Kosin said. "They deserve gratitude. So people should be saying thank you. I don't know how these people have lasted for so long."
DHSS data showed that capacity in intensive care units across the state contained to be an issue on Monday, as some units filled up or others were left with very few beds. Of Alaska's total 116 adult ICU beds, 20 were open on Monday, according to DHSS.
Data is reported to DHSS from 13 critical access hospitals, eight general acute care hospitals, one long-term acute care hospital and two psychiatric hospitals, according to the DHSS hospitalization dashboard on Tuesday afternoon.
An online DHSS hospital status dashboard showed that the adult ICUs at the Alaska Native Medical Center, Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center, Central Peninsula Hospital and the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center were "near capacity."
Two Southeast hospitals, PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center and Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, were not shown to be reaching capacity, according to the dashboard.
The only two hospitals displayed on the hospital status dashboard that did not have ICUs near capacity were Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and Joint Base Elmdendorf-Richardson Hospital.
According to the online DHSS hospitalization information:
Just one of 14 adult ICU beds were open on Monday in Matanuska-Susitna Valley hospitals, where COVID-19 represented 27.2% of the area's hospitalizations. Seventy-one of 135 non-ICU adult care beds were available.
In Interior region hospitals, two of 11 adult ICU beds were unoccupied on Monday, while 16 of 56 non-ICU beds were open. COVID-19 made up about 23.6% of area hospitalizations on Monday.
COVID-19 related hospitalizations accounted for 31.3% of hospitalizations counted in Gulf Coast area facilities on Monday. Four of 13 adult ICU beds were available in Gulf Coast hospitals on Monday.
In Anchorage, only five of 63 adult ICU beds were unoccupied, while just 45 of 503 non-ICU beds were open. COVID-19 made up 13.7% of Anchorage area hospitalizations on Monday.
In Southeast, COVID-19 represented just over 13% of hospitalizations and four of 13 ICU beds were available.
Information regarding hospital capacity in Northwest and Southwest Alaska was not available from DHSS.
Alaska's overall test positivity rate was 7.56% on Monday — the highest rate recorded since Nov. 22, when the rate was measured at 7.92%, according to DHSS.
— Compiled by Daily News Staff Writer Raegan Miller