Update, March 16: This story includes new information about new restrictions at South Peninsula Hospital’s Long Term Care facility, closures at the Kevin Bell Ice Arena and new guidelines on domestic and foreign travel.
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.
In a flurry of announcements starting Friday, March 13, 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 will be open on Monday starting at 1 p.m. at the Homer Methodist Church on East End Road with modified operations. As of Friday, food pantry organizers were developing a plan that will get food to people while limiting contact and keeping people safe. Call the food pantry ahead of time for arrangements. Volunteers also will be on hand in the parking lot to direct clients.
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. “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.
Homer Senior Center, Friendship Terrace and Adult Day Program, 907-235-7655
Congregate meals at the Homer Senior Center are suspended. 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 next week 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.
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.
“Your board has elected to act in solidarity with our city, borough and state and close our rink for the week,” the press release said.
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.”
Homer Public Library
Homer Community Recreation
City of Homer
The Homer Public Library and the Homer Education and Recreation Complex (HERC) are closed and all public programs and activities scheduled there are cancelled through Sunday, March 22, the city announced in a press release on Friday. 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.”
The closures may be extended, according to the release.
“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 proactive 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.
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
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