By Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2020

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - Alaska may have reached the limit of hospital space available for care of people infected with COVID-19, a health care company official said.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation recently had to keep a patient at its Bethel facility for an extra day because there were no available beds in Anchorage, KYUK-AM reported Wednesday.

The corporation’s hospital in Bethel does not have an intensive care unit, which medical staff deemed necessary for the patient’s treatment, said Dr. Ellen Hodges, the corporation’s chief of staff.

“This was an ICU-level patient, and all the ICU beds in Anchorage were full,” Hodges said Wednesday. “So we’ve already reached, I think, the limits of our capacity of the healthcare of the state. So it makes some of these mitigation strategies more important.”

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities are experiencing a national trend, noted in statistics released by the federal Centers for Disease Control. They indicate that young people have become more prone to the virus, although most do not suffer the extreme effects that have struck many older patients, Hodges said.

Hodges said 30% of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region’s cases are among people under the age of 18, with 70% under 40.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District has several communities that have moved entirely to remote education because of the pandemic.

The level of infection needs to improve for schools to reopen and the health corporation recommends two weeks without community spread of the virus before schools reopen, Hodges said.

“For Bethel, which is one of the towns with community spread, our last community spread case was about 10 days ago,” Hodges said. “So we think it might be possible, if we don’t get any more cases through the rest of this week, we could consider having the conversation about going back down to medium risk.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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