The Alaska Department of Heath and Social Services announced 108 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, one of which is in Homer. At the same time, the local hospital is adapting to weeks of low casec ounts in the area.
Of the 108 new cases announced Wednesday on the DHSS coronavirus response hub website, 105 cases are among Alaska residents, while three are among nonresidents. Two of the new cases announced Wednesday are on the Kenai Peninsula — one in Homer and one in Soldotna.
The state announced one new case of COVID-19 in an Anchor Point resident on Monday, meaning there have been two new cases on the southern Kenai Peninsula so far this week. There have been six new cases of the illness identified on the southern peninsula (from Ninilchik south) in the last 14 days.
With few new cases of COVID-19 on the southern peninsula over the last several weeks, South Peninsula Hospital is changing some of its practices to adapt, including a different testing location and further relaxing its visitation policy.
Starting on Tuesday, Oct. 6, the hospital is moving its COVID-19 testing operations to 4201 Bartlett Street, the hospital’s specialty clinic. Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro gave details about this change to the Homer City Council during its Monday meeting as a member of the Homer Unified Command.
Testing will occur at the clinic seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to Ferraro.
“To save on (personal protective equipment) and maintain sanity of winter staff, we are going to try this as a walk-up station,” she told the council. “A person would first register at the left window, and then go to the right window for their swab kit. And there will be instructions there and the nurse will witness the swabbing, and they’ll pass it back through the window and leave. If for any reason a person is not able to do that, then the nurse will go to the car and do the swabbing.”
The new hours are to align with reduced evening traffic for testing, Ferraro said. This change will also align better with the winter courier schedule that controls when swabs are delivered to the state laboratory in Anchorage, she told the council.
“They will be driving them to Soldotna daily at 1 p.m., transferring them to an Anchorage courier there for the remainder of the journey. This puts driving in daylight hours and gets our swabs in line first thing every morning in the state lab, because that turnaround time is critical and gets folks back to work and back to school.”
When it comes to visitation, South Peninsula Hospital had relaxed its policies to allow up to two visitors per patient for those who are hospitalized. On Monday, Ferraro announced the hospital is also now allowing up to two visitors per stay for obstetrics patients.
Per existing policy, Emergency Room, surgery and radiology patients can have one visitor for the duration of their visit. All visitors must wear face coverings and undergo screening at the door.
Ferraro also said the hospital is working to relax its visitation rules for Long Term Care, where residents have not been able to have visitors up to this point. The first step to making that a reality, Ferraro said, was testing all Long Term Care residents. That happened last week.
“The next step is testing all staff, and that is underway,” Ferraro said. “So there’s a few more hurdles to jump but the hope is by next week, as long as case counts stay low, we can safely relax visitation restrictions for Long Term Care.”
Additionally, the alternate care site erected by the hospital at Christian Community Church early on in the pandemic is coming down. Ferraro told the council on Monday that the site is in the process of being demobilized. The 40-bay site was created in April with the idea that it would be used to treat overflow COVID-19 patients from the main hospital campus.
“Hospitalization of cases has been flat due to the great community and individual mitigation measures,” Ferraro said.
She said the hospital remained ready and mobilized at the alternate care site in case of an influx of cases brought by summer visitors, and also for the period when students on the peninsula began returning to school.
“But both of those are over, and given the low community transmission, our emergency management team decided to demobilize,” Ferraro said.
The supplies that were used to build the alternate care site are being stored together in a storage unit, so that the hospital can be “turnkey ready” in case they have to set it up again, she said.
Local and statewide COVID-19 numbers
Of the 105 resident cases of COVID-19 announced Wednesday, there are 62 in Anchorage, 13 in Fairbanks, four in the Bethel Census Area, three each in Palmer, Utqiagvik, the Northwest Arctic Borough and Sitka, two each in Kodiak, the Nome Census Area, Kotzebue and Juneau, and one each in Homer, Soldotna, North Pole, Tok, Wasilla and Douglas.
Of the three nonresident cases reported Wednesday, two are in Anchorage and one is in Fairbanks.
There are now a total of 7,824 resident cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, and 956 total cumulative nonresident cases.
So far, 4,057 Alaska residents are recovered or presumed recovered, while 3,711 cases are still active. There area 498 recovered nonresidents and 458 nonresident cases that are still active.
In total, 293 Alaska residents have been hospitalized for the illness so far, along with six nonresidents. There are 33 people currently being hospitalized for a confirmed case of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and 20 people are being hospitalized with suspected cases, according to the data hub.
The state has reported a total of 56 deaths of Alaska residents that have been tied to COVID-19.
According to DHSS data, the state has performed 457,207 COVID-19 tests so far, for a seven-day average positivity rate of 2.87% as of Tuesday.
Locally, South Peninsula Hospital reported no new positive test results on Wednesday. That means the new positive Homer case was not tested at the hospital. Since the pandemic started, the hospital has performed 9,432 total COVID-19 tests, according to South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro. Of those, 9,205 have come back negative and 113 are still pending. The hospital has had a total of 114 positive test results.
The NTC Community Clinic has conducted 2,000 tests, 53 of which have come back positive, according to data updated on Sept. 25. SVT Health & Wellness has performed a total of 768 tests, with 753 of them negative and four still pending, according to data updated Sept. 30. SVT has had a total of 11 positive test results.
Testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula:
In Homer, testing will be available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at South Peninsula Hospital’s main entrance through Oct. 5. Testing is also available through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.
In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The testing is only for those traveling, symptomatic, needing testing for medical procedures, or with a known exposure after seven days. Only 20 tests will be offered per day. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.
On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.