Fairbanks faces COVID spike as Alaska goes on high alert status

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:07 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - All regions across the State of Alaska have returned to high alert COVID-19 status, and Fairbanks may be facing its own spike in coronavirus cases.

According to Dr. Leif Thompson, Employee Health Medical Supervisor for Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), hospitals across Alaska are facing capacity issues as more COVID-19 cases spread across Alaska. “Last week, we were at a point where most of the major referral centers, ANMC (Alaska Native Medical Center), Providence, and Alaska Regional were all at capacity in their ICUs. We had to actually divert patients to hospitals down south. Fairbanks is a regional center and we get referrals from the villages, but when things get to a high level of care, some of those people get sent down to Anchorage - and when Anchorage is full we don’t have that option.”

While Fairbanks has not experienced rates as bad as in Anchorage, Dr. Thompson says the potential is increasing. “The Delta variant is far more infectious than the original strains of the virus, and we’ve had a big uptick in the cases in the Anchorage area and across the state. Fairbanks has been at a lower rate, but I don’t attribute that to us being in better shape than Anchorage or other places in the state. It’s just that we happen to be a week and a half, maybe two weeks behind on the trajectory.”

With relatively low vaccination rates, Fairbanks is in a more vulnerable state than other more vaccinated populations according to Dr. Thompson. “The vaccination rate in the state I believe is listed as 58% of the people have gotten one vaccine. That’s not fully vaccinated, but that’s the statistic that is being pushed out. The next statistic is 52% of the state is considered fully vaccinated. In Fairbanks, our rate is just about 46% fully vaccinated. Now, we need to factor in those under 12 that are not eligible to be vaccinated - and when you factor that in, the Fairbanks area is just at about 39% vaccinated. Flip that over, that means 61% of Fairbanks is not resistant in any capacity to this virus. So we are not in a very good place as far as resisting the virus in the community. The way I liken it is the vaccine is something that dampens the wood, it gets the wood wet so it doesn’t burn as hot or doesn’t burn as easily. That doesn’t mean that you can’t burn it - but if it’s wet, the fire won’t take off. Fairbanks is dry kindling and any spark of a virus coming in is going to just catch like wildfire.”

In addition, the CDC recently has recommended that masks should be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status. Dr. Thompson said, “I think this is a disappointing thing for a lot of people because for a lot of people, the reason to get vaccinated was so that we don’t have to wear masks. I don’t like wearing masks, I don’t think that there’s many people out there that really enjoy them. But that was never really the reason why we vaccinate. We want to halt the spread of disease, and we want to reduce the need for hospitalizations and serious illness. So, that’s the real reason why we’re vaccinating people. The problem with this virus, the new variant, the Delta variant, it has a thousand times the concentration in the nasal passage than the virus from the original strains. It’s probably four to six times more infectious. So with that, we need the added protection of the mask to try and halt the spread of the virus. We’re asking people to mask now because if you consider you’re eight times less likely to catch it, but now this virus is four to seven times more likely to spread, it kind of cancels each other out. It’s like we were back in December, January, last year where everybody just had to mask, and we’re just back in that situation again. I don’t know how long that’s going to last for, I don’t think anybody knows, but we do know that masks catch the respiratory droplets that spread this virus.”

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