Alex Appel/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

For the past few weeks, the number of known, active COVID cases on the island has consistently increased. Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center declared it was activating crisis standards of care, according to a press release from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. 

There were 20 new cases diagnosed on Sept. 30. This is a 21% jump from Monday’s case count, which was 224. In the coming weeks hospitalizations are expected to rise, because hospitalizations usually follow diagnoses by two weeks, Providence Kodiak’s Incident Commander Amy Corder said. 

Locally, 84 people have been hospitalized for reasons associated with COVID since the start of the pandemic, the Kodiak Emergency Operations Center reported. Three people are currently hospitalized, according to the EOC. As soon as one person leaves a bed at Providence Kodiak, another person fills it, according to Corder.

On top of this, people seek treatment for reasons that are not related to COVID, such as other illnesses, injuries or heart attacks. Ideally, Providence Kodiak would be able to transfer patients off island if they need certain types of care that cannot be provided at PKIMC, according to Corder. 

However, due to the strain that the COVID pandemic has put on the healthcare system in the Mainland and the Lower 48, transferring patients to other medical facilities is more difficult— and at times not possible, Corder said. 

Providence Kodiak has already seen a consistent increase in the number of patients over the past three weeks, according to Corder. The hospital started repurposing rooms outside of the emergency room to accommodate the surge of patients arriving at the hospital, according to Corder.

Crisis standards of care are meant to give healthcare providers “good faith immunity,” or the ability to deviate from standardized medical practices at its discretion without fearing legal repercussions. Crisis standards of care have been used for a range of purposes, from loosening requirements to make it easier to certify nurses, to selectively administering care to patients that are believed to have the highest chance of survival.

“This activation was requested by the Crisis Care Committee so our health care providers could continue to provide the best medical care possible for Alaskans under good faith immunity,” said Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum in the DHSS news release. “The availability of resources and staff changes daily within these facilities.”

This week, healthcare workers from the Lower 48 will come to Providence Kodiak to help out the hospital’s staff. A few of these workers already arrived on Friday, according to Corder. Around 20 healthcare workers — approximately 5% of all workers coming into the state — will arrive on the island by the end of the week, she said.

The healthcare workers from the Lower 48 will grant Providence Kodiak’s staff some reprieve, according to Corder. For the past few months, the staff at PKIMC have been taking on extra shifts to keep up with the unusually large numbers of patients in the hospital. According to Corder, the new staff will be able to take away some of that burden.

“We are working alongside our health care facilities to provide state and federal resources to support the surge of patients,” Director of the Alaska Division of Public Health Heidi Hedberg said. “We are also imploring Alaskans to do their part. Please get vaccinated if you have not done so already, wear a mask when needed and keep your social circles small. Every action you take helps prevent COVID-19 from spreading and protects you, your family, other Alaskans and our health care system.”

Since the start of the pandemic, seven people have died for reasons associated with COVID, the EOC reported. Currently, Kodiak has the highest per capita number of known, active COVID cases in the United States, according to the New York Times. The total number of known COVID cases on the island since the start of the pandemic is 2,220 as of Friday.

Providence Kodiak’s spokesman could not be reached as of press time.

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