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Home / Health / Why is the COVID-19 death rate in Alaska still the lowest in the United States even with the surge in cases and the rising hospitalization rate?

Why is the COVID-19 death rate in Alaska still the lowest in the United States even with the surge in cases and the rising hospitalization rate?



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For more than a month, the number of coronavirus cases across Alaska has surged, the hospitalization rate has risen, and the positive test rate has risen. From most indicators, the pandemic here shows no signs of slowing down.

Despite these shocking trends, one indicator has remained stable so far: Alaska’s per capita COVID-19 death rate is still the lowest in the United States, and it is currently tied with Vermont, with 9 deaths per 100,000 people. According to data from a report released this week by the state, the national COVID-19 death rate is seven times higher than that of Alaska.

As of Thursday, 77 Alaskans had died from the virus.

When asked this week why Alaska has so far avoided a much worse fate than elsewhere (for example, the death rate per capita in New York City due to the virus is nearly 32 times higher than Alaska)-health officials say there are many reasons, including Alaska causes the early response of the pandemic, the relatively small nursing home population and the overall young population.

But state health officials say that low mortality is an unstable indicator and can change quickly.

More than 20% of deaths in the state occurred in the last month.

Dr. Anne Sinker, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska, said: “When you receive a lot of cases in a short period of time, you will quickly overwhelm the healthcare system and there will be more excess deaths.” “And I Think this is the threat we face.”

Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska, spoke to the media at the coronavirus press conference held in the Anchorage office on Monday, March 2, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

State epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said on a conference call this week that Alaska’s early success is an important reason for its mandate and community involvement in social evacuation, cover-ups and avoidance of gatherings, which makes the overall population going down.

He said: “Efforts made at the beginning of the pandemic basically translated into a very low number of cases in Alaska.” “This basically gives us time to learn more about how to provide the best care for COVID patients.”

He said that when Alaska saw a surge in July, medical staff were ready.

McLaughlin said: “By then, we already have some medicines available and we have a better understanding of how to care for patients.”

Zink said in the same conference call that Alaska’s early active testing strategy is a key tool to control outbreaks and prevent community proliferation, and “may affect our numbers.”

The death rate is calculated by dividing the total number of deaths by the total number of infections.

Throughout the summer, the state inspected a large number of healthy people, including staff in the out-of-state seafood industry and travelers who provided free inspections at many airports. This allowed the public health team to detect more cases and help the overall mortality rate. decline.

Kelly Frantz of Capstone Family Medicine packed the COVID-19 test at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in June. (Mark Lester/ADN)

Health officials say the mortality rate in Alaska is also very low, partly because young people are less likely to die from the disease. In Alaska, they account for a disproportionate proportion of the state’s virus cases.

This is because young people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, are more likely to be essential workers or work outside the home. They are also more inclined to go to bars and parties, and throughout the summer, they largely constitute the workforce in the extensively tested seafood industry.

Many of them also carry young children who may carry the virus and mix with others, so they are unlikely to follow the rules.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that although everyone is equally likely to be infected by the virus, the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 will increase with age.

Eight of the 10 coronavirus deaths in the United States involved adults over 65.

In Alaska, people over 60 account for only 15% of virus cases, but about 80% of all deaths.

Sinker said this also contributed to the state’s low mortality rate because Alaska largely avoided a large-scale nursing home outbreak, partly because the state’s per capita rate of nursing beds is the lowest in other states.

She said: “Many of our nursing homes are very scattered, or people are being cared for at home or in the family.” “So we don’t have a nursing home for a thousand people, where it may develop rapidly and affect many people.”

According to the New York Times, more than one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the United States are related to nursing homes nationwide.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nursing home populations are at higher risk of dying from the virus because they are older and have underlying health conditions, and the virus can spread more easily in gathering places.

However, although Alaska has largely avoided the scale of the nursing home outbreak seen in other states for several months, when the number of cases began to rise, outbreaks in advanced living facilities (including the state-owned Pioneer Home) also began to occur.

In the outbreak that began in early August, two residents died at the Pioneer House in Anchorage. The outbreak at Fairbanks Pioneer Home in late September has now expanded to more than 60 employees and residents. As of this week, there have been two reports of virus-related deaths.

On Wednesday, August 26, 2020, Anchorage Pioneer House. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Bruce Chandler, a medical officer at the Anchorage Health Department, said that in Anchorage, there has been an outbreak of diseases related to multiple assisted living facilities.

Ultimately, more cases in the general community translate into more vulnerable people, more hospitalizations and more deaths.

So far, Alaska has been lucky to keep its mortality rate low. But health officials say that the death toll is a lagging indicator like hospitalization, and as the number of cases increases and the number of hospitalizations increases, the death toll will continue to rise.

Last Thursday, the state reported 6 deaths related to COVID-19, which is in line with the highest number of deaths reported in the state in a day since the pandemic began. Officials said on both occasions that there had been no recent cases and that they were determined by standard review of death certificates.

Sink said: “There is a lot of hope. There is still a lot to do. We are still the country with the lowest mortality rate in the country.”

She said that if Alaska follows national trends, nearly 500 people will die by now.

She said: “Because Alaskans take care of each other, we have done something in Alaska from the beginning.” She emphasized that taking personal steps to mitigate the virus is indeed effective.

She said: “We do need people to stay there.”


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