Mat-Su Borough

Dr. Tom Quimby spoke during a special Mat-Su Borough meeting.

PALMER — There were 44 new cases of COVID-19 reported from the Mat-Su on Friday bringing the total cases in the Valley to 2,477 total.

As cases surge around the nation, pressure is once again put on Alaska’s fragile health care system to be able to provide care to patients in need. Mat-Su Regional Medical Center COVID-19 Taskforce chair Dr. Tom Quimby provided an update during the Mat-Su Borough press conference on Thursday. Quimby said that much like when he communicates with patients, he had both good and bad news.

“We’re breaking records regularly with the number of people hospitalized and the number of people on ventilators in hospitals and we are seeing more deaths in Alaska unfortunately, so this is a big change from a lot of the previous press conferences that I’ve been to previously. At our hospital and our emergency department in the Valley, the situation has changed quite a bit. We see many people with covid every single day in the emergency department and usually several of those people are being admitted to the hospital on a daily basis,” said Quimby. “We are concerned if this surge continues to progress the way that it is that we may meet or exceed capacity here in Alaska with our health care resources and I think it is worth remembering that Alaska does have limited health care resources.”

Statewide, there were 459 new cases announced on Friday bringing Alaska’s total up to 25,369 with 100 total deaths attributed to COVID-19. Across the state, 113 people are hospitalized with 14 more awaiting test results. Quimby said that Intensive Care Unit beds have been added at MSRMC but staffing shortages have been an issue.

“The hospital is a safe place to seek medical care. We have no evidence of any outbreak or people contracting covid from visiting the hospital so if you need medical care please know the hospital is a safe place,” said Quimby.

There were 44 new cases announced on Friday in the Mat-Su with 35 from Wasilla and nine from Palmer. The DHSS COVID-19 dashboard no longer contains the number of active cases within various areas of the state as contact tracers are unable to provide accurate data on who is and is not actively experiencing symptoms among the tens of thousands of Alaskans who are currently testing positive. There have been 1,618 total cases within the area reported as Wasilla that includes neighboring communities and there have been 674 total cases in Palmer.

“We’ll get through this if we work together. Please do your part. Practice the three W’s, wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands .Our frontline workers are counting on you to do your part,” said Mat-Su Health Foundation CEO Liz Ripley.

There have been no severe COVID-19 symptoms experienced among hospital employees who have tested positive and Quimby was happy to report that no Alaskan health care workers have died due to COVID-19. Ripley noted the long months of preparation and community involvement that MSHF is still promoting safely. Ripley encouraged donations to local nonprofits on Giving Tuesday, which is Dec. 1. Ripley thanked the Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services employees who have changed the way they do their jobs amidst the pandemic.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have such high functioning, expert and caring professionals looking out for our health and welfare so just really appreciate them,” said Ripley. “I implore you for whatever reason you choose to exercise your freedom to wear a mask in public. Whether it’s to give our front line responders a break, to protect your loved ones, yourself or our economy, please commit to doing so. We’d like to give a shoutout to the Mat-Su Borough for instituting their mask requirement inside their facilities and to all the businesses inside the Mat-Su that are requiring their staff and customers to wear a mask. You’re doing your part to help us slow down the advance of the virus, to stay in business and to protect your employees and the public and we really appreciate it.”

As Quimby strives to do every time he stands behind a podium at Borough press conferences, he provided science based statistics to support the use of mask wearing as a tool to slow the spread of COVID-19 when used effectively.

“We still have to recognize that covid’s there, that it is a threat. It’s a microscopic bundle of protein and RNA and it really just doesn’t care about our timeline as humans. There was a report that demonstrated during a seven month period from late January through October there were almost 300,000 excess deaths in the United States and the highest group with an increase in death was in the 25 to 44 years olds so this is still dangerous,” said Quimby. “If we fail to control the rate of the pandemic as mentioned previously, we can affect the ability to provide normal healthcare to our community and put a lot of strain on the system which results in most places we see this causing more restrictive lockdown and things that none of us want.”

Quimby described emotional exhaustion from hospital employees working longer and harder than they have ever worked before. Ripley said that in a recent call, a group of doctors said that they had never witnessed anything such as the coronavirus pandemic before. Quimby likened the strife of health care employees battling the virus inside the walls of the hospital and seeing the political side of the issue outside of the hospital to Vietnam war veterans returning home after the controversial war a half century ago.

“At this point we’d love to get back to just our normal jobs when they walk out of that hospital and they run into a barrage of social media friends and acquaintances that are saying things like this is a hoax or this isn’t real. It really feels like that where their experience is being discounted and it adds an additional burden of strain on them,” said Quimby. “I really ask if you want to debate the response, if you want to debate the way that society is handling this I think that’s reasonable. But to say that this isn’t real is to frankly dishonor and disrespect the health care workers that are dealing with this right now as well as the people who are sick and affected and even dying right now. So that’s my plea to the community on behalf of myself and fellow health care workers I hope we can find a way, this has been so divisive, to come together and keep our society open as much as possible, keep our kids in school.”

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