South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort examines a vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort examines a vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Homer

Inoculation of hospital staff and long term care residents begins Thursday

With COVID-19 case rates still high on the Kenai Peninsula and the state still reporting high numbers of new daily cases, vaccines arrived in Homer this week and signaled a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 616 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, 12 of them among nonresidents. The state also reported two new deaths of Alaska residents tied to COVID-19.

The seven-day average test positivity rate on the peninsula is 8.47%, higher than the statewide rate of 6.52%. When it comes to the alert level set by DHSS for each region of the state based on the average daily case rate over 14 days per 100,000 people, the peninsula’s alert level is lower than Anchorage’s.

The first shipment of the 180 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at South Peninsula Hospital on Wednesday. The hospital was scheduled to begin giving doses to employees and residents of the Long Term Care wing starting Thursday morning, according to hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro.

“Our priority will certainly be Long Term Care residents as well as the members of our staff who volunteered to be in the first group,” Ferraro told the Homer City Council during its Monday meeting.

The Pfizer vaccine must be administered in two separate doses, with the second dose given three weeks after the first.

The hospital will also offer the vaccine to nursing students who are currently in the campus building doing training.

“So just kind of expanding the work force there,” Ferraro said.

She stressed that the hospital cannot vaccinate everyone in the first round of inoculations at the same time. Hospital staff don’t yet know what’s in store in terms of future shipments of the vaccine and how many the hospital will be allotted.

“It looks promising,” Ferraro said. “But the second company, Moderna, hasn’t even gotten its emergency use authorization yet, so it’s changing on a daily basis.”

Vaccines are only available for staff and Long Term Care residents, not the general public.

For more information on the status of vaccines in Alaska, visit dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx.

Giving an update to the council on COVID-19 from the local hospital’s perspective, Ferraro reported that both the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and the number of staff currently home from work due to the virus are down compared to mid-November.

“We now are sometimes seeing one, maybe two patients hospitalized for COVID-19, and our resources remain solid,” Ferraro said.

As of Monday, eight South Peninsula Hospital staff members were out due to COVID-19-related reasons. That’s much lower than numbers from last month, Ferraro said.

She said that while the situation is constantly changing, Homer’s hospital is doing pretty well right now.

The southern Kenai Peninsula, from Ninilchik south, has had 92 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the last 14 days, according to state data.

As on Wednesday, South Peninsula Hospital has conducted a total of 15,027 COVID-19 tests with 14,428 coming back negative and 162 still pending, according to Ferraro. The hospital has had a total of 437 positive test results so far.

Statewide COVID-19 case count

As of Wednesday, Alaska has had a cumulative total of 42,473 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Of those, 1,432 have been among nonresidents.

The two people whose deaths were reported Wednesday were from Anchorage and Chugiak. The state has recorded a total of 180 deaths of Alaska residents that have been tied to COVID-19. One nonresident has died with the disease while in the state.

Of the new cases reported Wednesday, there were 240 in Anchorage, 84 in Wasilla, 34 in Palmer, 33 in Fairbanks, 30 in Kodiak, 28 in Kenai, 22 in Bethel, 14 each in Eagle River and Soldotna, 13 each in North Pole and Utqiagvik, 11 in the Kuslivak Census Area, nine in Chigiak, seven in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, six in Homer, five each in the northern Kenai Peninsula and Nome, four each in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area and the Fairbanks North Star Borough, three each in Sterling, the southern Kenai Peninsula and Sitka, two each in Cordova, Valdez, Tok, the Mat-Su Borough, Willow and the Bethel Census Area, and one each in Nikiski, the Kodiak Island Borough, Healy, Delta Junction, Big Lake, the North Slope Borough and Unalaska.

Of the new nonresident cases announced Wednesday, two are in Anchorage, one is in Kenai, one is in Fairbanks, one is in Wasilla, three are in Unalaska and four are unknown.

Alaska has reported a total of 903 residents hospitalized for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. That includes people who have since died or since recovered and gone home. There have also been a total of 18 nonresidents hospitalized in the state for COVID-19.

There were 129 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19, according to state data, along with nine people being hospitalized for suspected cases. Of all the people hospitalized in Alaska, 15.8% of them are hospitalized with COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, the state reported that there were 31 adult ICU beds open statewide, and 15 COVID-19 patients around the state were on ventilators.

Alaska has conducted 1.16 million COVID-19 tests so far, with a seven-day average positivity rate of 6.52%. The current average turnaround time for a test through the state laboratory is two days. In her report to the city council, Ferraro said the current average turnaround time for tests swabbed at South Peninsula Hospital is about four days.

Testing on the Kenai Peninsula:

Free COVID-19 tests are offered 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week at the lower level of the South Peninsula Hospital Specialty Clinic, at 4201 Bartlett Street, Homer. Please use the Danview Avenue access. Tests are for those who have had recent travel out of state, have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, have new onset of any symptom related to COVID-19, or have a provider referral. See the complete list of eligible individuals at www.sphosp.org or call the COVID information line at 235-0235. Please call and pre-register before coming if and when possible.

The hospital’s testing site will have shortened hours on Christmas Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Testing is also available through the SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead 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 mpacer@homernews.com.

South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort peers into a box filled with 180 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort peers into a box filled with 180 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort holds up a vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

South Peninsula Pharmacist Jill Kort holds up a vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 shortly after it arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

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