The delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious, is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated people, and breakthrough cases in vaccinated Alaskans are also adding fuel to a rise in positive testing rates. Mask wearing indoors is again recommended for everyone to slow the spread of the virus. With case counts numbering in the hundreds per day in Alaska, what are health officials preparing for?
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Jared Kosin President/CEO, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association
- Dr. Elizabeth Bates Director of Infection Control, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation
Health officials continue to sound the alarm about the surge in COVID cases across the country and in Alaska.
“The original COVID could infect two to three people. This version of the virus can infect between five and eight individuals,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bates, director of infection control at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. “The other thing that we’re seeing with the Delta variant is there’s more risk of severe disease, particularly unvaccinated individuals, so there’s more risk of hospitalization and death.”
Bates said 24% of COVID cases in the Y-K Delta have been breakthrough cases, people who test positive for the virus after being fully vaccinated. But, they’re less likely to experience symptoms, require hospitalization, or die from the virus she said.
Currently, it’s unclear how infectious breakthrough cases are, she said, and unvaccinated people are more of a concern right now.
YKHC recently saw its first COVID death in four months and is seeing COVID patients as young as 10 months old and as old as 89, Bates said. She encouraged eligible people to get vaccinated as a way to help protect vulnerable populations and manage hospital capacity.
Recent CDC data shows that being fully vaccinated reduces a person’s risk of getting sick by eight times, Bates said. “So, it reduces your risk eight fold if you’re exposed. That’s not 100%. So there is still some risk. And as I described, we do see bright breakthrough cases in our region. But as I said, it’s almost 100% effective at preventing severe illness, and deaths.”
A significant challenge to the vaccination effort is ongoing misinformation and mistrust of the medical community. She said the vaccine is safe.
“This is built on 25 years of data, and trials with other SARS viruses and, and mRNA technology. So I wouldn’t consider it experimental at all, I would consider this established science.”
Bates said at this point, dying from COVID-19 is avoidable thanks to the vaccine, and medical professionals can be trusted.
“We have to trust science we have to trust providers, we have to trust that there’s such smart people working on this data and who are working tirelessly,” Bates said. “Joe McLaughlin, Anne Zink, Louisa Castrodale, these folks are reading the data on the weekends and disseminating information so we’re all informed and I think we really have to trust the scientific community and trust the providers who are making the recommendation.”
Correction: The highlights section of this post has been updated to reflect that being fully vaccinated reduces a person’s risk by eight times, not 800 times as previously stated.
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