Update, 11:45 a.m. March 19: Homer Mayor Ken Castner declared a local emergency and Homer City Manager Katie Koester ordered all city facilities closed to the public. Three new cases also were announced on Wednesday.
Editor’s note: To help keep the public informed on the COVID-19 pandemic, the paywall to the News section of the Homer News website at www.homernews.com has been disabled.
As public facilities across the United States initiated efforts to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus through social distancing, Homer institutions are doing their part.
Voluntary closures have come in response to advice and directives from federal and state public health officials, including a notice from President Donald Trump, “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” in which the White House advises that individuals and organizations cancel or postpone in-person events of 10 people or more.
On Wednesday, March 18, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink reported three more confired cases of COVID-19, two in Anchorage and one in Seward — the first case on the Kenai Peninsula. All three were travel related, with two from the Lower 49 and one from Europe.
Also on Wednesday, Homer Mayor Ken Caster declared a Local Emergency in response to new cases of COVID-19 in Alaska. His declaration is effective for seven days and will be extended only after Homer City Council consideration and ratification at its next meeting on March 23.
Homer City Manager Katie Koester also ordered all city facilities closed until further notice as of late Wednesday.
“The declaration elevates Homer’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to Level 3 status,” Koester said in a press release on Wednesday. “… It also activates the continuity of operations plans (COOP) for all City departments, which adds further precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) among the public and employees and helps ensure the continuation of essential City services.”
Under the Level 3 EOC status, the city will continue response coordination under a unified comman structure with South Peninsula Hospital, the local division of Alaska Public Health and other partners, Koester said in the release.
In a flurry of announcements starting last week, churches, libraries, schools and other programs announced closures, postponements or limited services. Here’s a rundown for the Homer area:
Homer Community Food Pantry, 907-235-1968
The Homer Community Food Pantry distributed food on Monday at its regular hours of 1 to 3 p.m. at the Homer Methodist Church on East End Road with modified operations. Next week and throughout the pandemic, patrons can request food packages at the front door, and volunteers will box them up and bring food to them.
Homer United Methodist Church
Under the direction of the Methodist Church bishop, the Homer United Methodist Church will suspend public worship for the next two weeks. Pastor Lisa Talbott said she will email worship books to members and set up a Facebook Live broadcast of services through the church’s Facebook page.
“We’re doing this as a courageous act of prevention,” she said in a phone interview on Friday, March 13. “This is one way we can keep our community safe by making sure we’re not at close contact.”
On Sunday, Talbott held a video service. That can be viewed through the church’s YouTube link.
Twelve-step programs that meet at the church will continue, Talbott said, but people are encouraged to make arrangements to call in. Anyone sick or who has been traveling is asked to call in.
Anchor Point Senior Citizens
The Anchor Point Senior Center on Milo Fritz Avenue is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congregate meals and the Helping Hands Thrift Store also are closed. Donations for Helping Hands Thrift Store can dropped off. The office staff are at work and available by phone for addressing needs. For information, call 235-7786.
Homer Senior Center, Friendship Terrace and Adult Day Program, 907-235-7655
Congregate meals at the Homer Senior Center are suspended as are all other activities. Meals will be available for seniors for pick-up. Homer Senior Center Executive Director Keren Kelley said people can call by 10 a.m. Monday to arrange pick-up. It also may be possible to arrange delivery of meals.
Friendship Terrace, the senior center’s assisted living facility, is closed to all visitors, including family.
“We’re asking family to not visit their parents at this time,” Kelley said.
Arrangements will be made for people to communicate with family by Facetime or other video conferencing. Family or friends can drop off books, cards, games and other material at the Friendship Terrace front desk.
Friendship Terrace also is monitoring staff by taking temperatures and assessing for other signs of possible COVID-19 infection. Kelley said Friendship Terrace staff have been preparing for the possibility of closures for several weeks.
“I think this is a good call,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to protect our residents and our seniors.”
South Peninsula Hospital
SPH Long Term Care
On Sunday, South Peninsula Hospital Long Term Care announced it is restricting all visitation, SPH Spokesperson Derotha Ferraro wrote in an email.
“Effective immediately only essential health care staff and pre-approved visitors for end-of-life or other compassionate care situations are the only persons permitted to enter the unit,” she wrote in the press release.
Long Term Care is following guidelines announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and to help protect seniors and some of the community’s most vulnerable population from the novel coronavirus.
“We hope this is a very temporary measure, and appreciate the cooperation from the community, volunteers, and friends and family members of the residents,” Ferraro wrote in the email.
The hospital also is now restricting access only for those with appointments for medical care, persons seeking critical care in the ER, designated visitors of patients, and staff. No other visitors are permitted; this includes delivery drivers, non-essential contractors, family members of staff, and public for any other reason.
Access to the cafeteria is for patients and staff only.
The Gift Shop is closed indefinitely
Visitors to patients also are restricted. restriction. Only one visitor (who meets screening guidelines) per day per patient is allowed in the Acute Care and the Infusion center.
The lower level of the hospital has only one public entrance, which is the far west entrance near the Rehabilitation Department.
Sleep studies have been discontinued.
Homer Medical Center evening extended hours clinics are cancelled.
Large group events at SPH are postponed, including Childbirth, Newborn Care, Safe and Healthy Kids Fair, Walk with a Doc, and Stop the Bleed.
Kevin Bell Arena
In a press release Sunday from the Homer Hockey Association and Kevin Bell Arena board of directors, the board announced the arena will be closed from March 15 to March 22.
The board will re-examine the closure after March 22.
“We realize that with school out, it would seem like a great time to come down and utilize the rink we operate,” the press release said. “However, the actions we are taking are simply to follow the lead of folks with a great deal more knowledge in these areas.”
Elective surgery guidelines
In a COVID-19 Health Alert on March 16, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services advises Alaskans to postpone or cancel all non-urgent or elective surgical procedures for three months to decrease the overall impact on Alaska’s health care structure. This advisory follows the guidance of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and the American College of Surgeons.
“Given Alaska’s distances and limited health care capacity, it is especially important to open acute health care beds for anticipated COVID-19 care,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink wrote in the alert. “The State of Alaska believes that by delaying non emergent procedures, individuals will receive optimal care.”
City of Homer
Homer Public Library
Homer Community Recreation
The Homer Public Library, the Homer Education and Recreation Complex (HERC) and other Community Recreation programs are closed and all public programs and activities scheduled there are cancelled until further notice, the city announced in a press release on Tuesday.
The Homer Police Department also is closed to the public. 911 dispatch is operating as usual. Non-emergency police business can be conducted by phone at 907-235-3150 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday, City Manager Katie Koester ordered all city offices closed to the public. City staff will be available during regular business hours by telephone and email. The public is encouraged to do city business over the phone or through email. Contact information is at the city’s website at www.cityofhomer-ak.gov. Updates on COVID-19 are on the city website. Bills can be paid online or by dropping off payments in the drop box at the front of City Hall by the Pioneer Avenue entrance.
The March 23 Homer City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday will be held, but with modifications to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Citizens are encouraged to submit public comments in writing to email@example.com or faxed to 907-235-3143. Seating will be modified in the Cowles Council Chambers to encourage social distancing. The meeting will be broadcast live on KBBI Public Radio AM 890.
The closures were taken by City Manager Katie Koester to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the Homer community.
“The city is aware that this decision may create added hardships to families that already have to find a place to take students as a result of the Kenai Peninsula School District’s extended spring break,” according to the press release. “The decision to close these facilities to the public is in support of reducing the spread of COVID-19 virus.”
“I’d like to remind families returning from spring break vacations that they may be bringing home more than just fond memories,” Homer Mayor Ken Castner said in the press release. “If you are traveling back from areas with ongoing community spread of COVID-19, take care to practice social distancing, monitor your symptoms and immediately call your medical provider or 211 if you develop symptoms.”
“We thank everyone for listening to public health authorities and leaders and following preventative recommendations It’s about flattening the potential spike in COVID-19 cases in our communities,” Koester said.
Meetings of all governmental bodies, including boards, commissions and appointed bodies, will continue to be held, with times, dates and location published and shared on the City of Homer website at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/.
City Hall and other city departments remain open for usual business. Critical departments such as fire and emergency services and dispatch services will continue with regular operations.
Homer Electric Association
Homer Electric Association closed its Kenai and Homer office lobbies from March 17 to March 21. Members can phone support representatives in Homer at 235-8551, in Kenai at 283-8551,or toll free 800-478-8551. Bills can be paid online at www.homerelectric.com, by phone or through the HEA on Apple or Android smart devices. They also can be deposited in secure lock boxes at HEA office entrances.
The Homer Theatre, Homer’s oldest and only movie theater, is temporarily closed as of March 16.
“While we will all miss the entertainment and coming together, as is becoming so apparent, this is a time to shelter down and stop any chance of this virus getting to the vulnerable among us,” owners Lynette and Jamie Sutton said in a press release. “Clearly the nation and also our little Hamlet are not ready. And so to give time for our hospitals to gear up, medical devices and respirators to arrive, and ultimately, a vaccine to be available, we have decided to do our part in inhibiting any spread.”
The Suttons said the theater will reopen when it is proper to do so.
“And we will gather to celebrate our community and the earnest efforts we have undertaken together,” they said in the release.
Hospice of Homer
Hospice of Homer will be open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday for equipment check out and other services. Call ahead for information on meetings of support groups. Anyone needing assistance with grief counseling or other services should call ahead at 235-6899.
Kachemak Bay Campus, 235-7743
In order to promote the health of the community, Kachemk Bay Campus will be extending Spring Break through March 22. Starting March 23 all courses will shift to online/alternate delivery and will not be held on campus. Community events have been cancelled and non-credit classes have been postponed until further notice.
Professors will contact students directly on how to connect with classes. The college is working on a plan for lab classes and to make resources available to students who do not have access to computers or the internet.
While administrative operating hours will be 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, the college asks that people call 235-7743 with questions rather than stop by the office. The campus will be closed on Saturday and Sunday until further notice.
The Friends of the Homer Public Library Celebration of Lifelong Learning scheduled for March 21 has been postponed.
The South Peninsula Haven House Women of Distinction Auction and Dinner scheduled for March 27 also has been postponed.
New travel restrictions
In COVID-19 Health Alert issue March 15, DHSS issued this advice for returning travelers:
Higher Risk: For travelers returning within 14 days from the time you left an area with widespread, ongoing community spread such as Europe, China and other countries (i.e., a CDC Level 3 Travel Health Notice Area) you should:
• Stay home and avoid contact with other household members.
• Contact your employer and do not go to work or school for this 14-day period after you return.
• CDC Level 3 Travel Health Notice Area: China, Iran, South Korea, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City.
Medium Risk: For travelers returning within 14 days from outside of Alaska (including the rest of the United States) you should:
• Discuss your work situation with your employer before returning to work.
• Minimize contact with people as much as possible, self-monitor and practice social distancing.
This may mean not going to work or school if you cannot safely be distanced from others – especially if you traveled in a location where community transmission is occurring.
• Health Guidance for Returning Travelers in the Higher and Medium Risk Groups
Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing.
Do not take mass transportation during the time you are practicing social distancing.
Avoid crowded places (such as shopping centers and movie theaters) and limit your activities in public.
Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).
If you get sick with fever (>100.3°F), cough, or shortness of breath, please call your health care provider.
If you seek medical care for other reasons, such as dialysis, call ahead to your doctor and tell them about your recent travel.
All Alaskans should follow previous guidance including regular hand washing, cleaning surfaces and avoiding large gatherings.
Precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
• Get a flu shot to prevent the spread of influenza and reduce the burden on medical systems in the event of COVID-19 cases
• Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water frequently throughout the day, and every time after eating, coughing, sneezing or using the restroom.
• Avoid contact with people if sick. Sneeze or cough into sleeves or elbows. Practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from others.
• Stay informed and start planning.
Anyone who has symptoms of respiratory infection (fever more than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing) or who has traveled overseas f in the past 14 days should call SPH facilities before coming in.
SPH spokesperson Derotha Ferraro stressed that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should call ahead to the hospital or clinics.
“Do not come into any clinic or even the hospital if you have any symptoms,” she said. “Call from the car. We’ll triage you from the car. We’ll bring you in a special door.”
Those numbers are:
South Peninsula Hospital: 235-0235
Homer Medical Center: 235-8586
HMC West Wing: 435-3040
SPH Specialty Clinic: 235-0310
Carol Klamser, Family Practice: 235-0310
For more information, visit these websites:
Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) travel information website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District website at https://www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/students_parents.aspx?id=41540 includes information on travel restrictions and links to other sites.
CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Coronavirus webpage http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/Human-Coronavirus.aspx
Information for older adults and people with serious, chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html#stay-home
For other closures, send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.