Seven more people on the Kenai Peninsula have been confirmed to have COVID-19, local hospitals and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced Thursday.
The state reported 13 new cases across Alaska on Thursday, with seven on the peninsula, which reflects the number of cases that were reported to the state the previous day.
Five of those people are located on the southern Kenai Peninsula, with two of them located specifically in Homer. According to data on the state’s coronavirus response website, there are two new cases in Homer, one new case in Kenai, the first case recorded in Nikiski, and three new cases in the “other” category which is used for people who live within the borough but in communities with less than 1,000 people.
South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro reported that four of the new cases come from positive tests that were conducted at the local hospital. Each of the four cases was tested through the hospital’s drive-up sample collection system.
“All four individuals are residents of the southern Kenai Peninsula who were experiencing symptoms,” Ferraro wrote in an email.
Contact tracing and investigation by local Public Health nurses has already begun.
Of the remaining three new cases on the peninsula, Central Peninsula Hospital Public Information Office Bruce Richards confirmed that two of them were tested at CPH. One was tested as an outpatient, which Richards wrote in an email means the person had a provider order for a test, while the other was tested due to being admitted to the hospital as a patient.
The seventh test was conducted at the SVT Health & Wellness clinic in Homer. The clinic is owned and operated by Seldovia Village Tribe.
This is the first positive test for SVT Health & Wellness, according to a Thursday press release from the clinic.
“The asymptomatic person was tested at our Homer location earlier this week and resides on the Southern Kenai Peninsula,” the press release states.
Public Health nurses are investigating this case and performing contact tracing, according to the press release.
“The Public Health Nurses will reach out to any person who may have come into contact with this individual,” the release states. “Public Health will notify each significant contact and offer instructions for preventing the spread of disease including quarantine, isolation if sick and contacting your primary care provider for evaluation and potential testing.”
No additional information on this case is available at this time. SVT clinics are located in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point.
This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases on the peninsula to 34.
The state records cases according to where people live, not necessarily where they are at the time they test positive for COVID-19. Cases where people live in Census Designated Places of fewer than 1,000 people get labeled “other.”
DHSS has been changing the residency designation for recorded cases as it gathers more information from people who test positive. For example, one of the cases that was previously in the “other” residency category — meaning the person was located within the Kenai Peninsula Borough in a community of less than 1,000 people — has now been changed to Fritz Creek.
Of the cases on the peninsula, as of Thursday DHSS is reporting that seven are in Kenai, six in Soldotna, six in Homer, three in Sterling, three in Seward, two in Anchor Point, five in the “other” category, one in Nikiski and one in Fritz Creek.
As for the new cases on the southern peninsula, case investigations for those people began last night, according to Homer Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll, and the nurses continue to learn more as of this morning.
“It is clear that a portion of the newly reported cases are connect(ed),” Carroll wrote in an email. “However, it is still unclear if there is an absolute connection amongst all newly reported cases.”
Carroll said it is likely that people will see an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases as access to testing for asymptomatic people increases. This could “feed a perception of increased COVID-19 activity,” he wrote.
Given that the illness is an acute disease, meaning that its duration is typically 14 days or shorter, Carroll said that an increase in positive COVID-19 test results does suggest an increase in the prevalence of the illness.
“Now is a good time to reexamine our individual and organizational approach to community mitigation measures in order to improve safety of our friends, family, and neighbors,” he wrote.
City of Homer Public Information Officer Jenny Carroll said in an email that the city’s Emergency Operations Center continues to work with community partners to promote prevention measures, “which are critical for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”
“A robust and accessible COVID-19 testing program is also very important, especially since a) the virus can be transmitted when people are asymptomatic and not knowing they have the virus and b) given the influx of visitors, seasonal residents and workers since opening Alaska under Phase 4 of the Governor’s plan,” she wrote.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional information from the Seldovia Village Tribe.