In this March 2021 photo provided by Pfizer, vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared for packaging at the company���s facility in Puurs, Belgium. Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday, July 8, 2021, that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant. (Pfizer via AP)

In this March 2021 photo provided by Pfizer, vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared for packaging at the company���s facility in Puurs, Belgium. Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday, July 8, 2021, that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant. (Pfizer via AP)

COVID cases continue to rise, delta variant confirmed on peninsula

Homer saw 14 cases in one day this week.

Alaska saw 465 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while more regions continue to break into the high risk threshold. After weeks of being in the low alert level for positive COVID-19 cases, all regions of the Kenai Peninsula have now moved into the high alert level.

In Homer, the South Peninsula Hospital COVID-19 testing site has seen a dramatic increase in the rate of positive tests. Of 531 test swabs done between July 13 and 19, 91 tested positive — a 17% positive rate. On Tuesday, the site did 158 swabs, of which 14 tested positive, hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro wrote in an email.

In a press briefing last Thursday with the Department of Health and Social Services, State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said officials are still encouraging people to get their COVID vaccines.

“Unfortunately we’re seeing more regions pop up into the red zone in terms of cases,” he said.

Alaska is currently considered high risk for COVID, as well as about half of the borough regions in the state. The Kenai Peninsula is in the high alert tier, with an average of 18.7 positive cases per 100,000 people as of Monday.

According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, the central peninsula had 106 cases over the past 14 days, the southern peninsula had 81 cases and the eastern peninsula had 24 cases. Locally, Homer had 59 cases, Anchor Point had 16 and the other peninsula south had three.

Additionally, the statewide vaccination trends have been at a bit of a standstill.

Almost 52% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Alaska. That percentage drops to just under 44% on the Kenai Peninsula.

“Unfortunately we’re not seeing these numbers rise as quickly as we had earlier, and really want to do whatever we can to underscore the importance of vaccination and promote vaccination, especially as we see this delta variant taking a foothold in Alaska,” McLaughlin said during the briefing.

He said experts are finding data that suggests the delta variant is around 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant — otherwise known as the United Kingdom variant. The alpha, he said, was already 50% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus that emerged out of Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

“We’re quite concerned about this delta variant,” McLaughlin said during the briefing.

State officials are tracking delta closely. As of July 16, DHSS state genomic had reported an additional 21 delta cases in the state, bringing the total number of identified cases to 58.

July 16, DHSS Spokesman Clinton Bennett confirmed that at least one delta variant had been confirmed in the Gulf Coast Region. Tuesday, Seward City Clerk Brenda Ballou confirmed there was a delta case in the east Kenai Peninsula town.

McLaughlin said during the briefing, however, that continual data shows that the COVID-19 vaccines, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, have a high efficacy rate against the delta variant.

With just the first Pfizer-BioNTech dose, McLaughlin said the efficacy percentage is in the low 30s. After both doses, that percentage rate climbs to the 80s.

“If it’s been less than two weeks since your shot or if you still need to get your second dose you’re not fully protected yet,” he said, underscoring the importance of the second dose of the mRNA series shots.

Among the 456 new COVID cases in the state reported Monday, there were 53 on the Kenai Peninsula. As of Tuesday, there were five patients in the Gulf Coast currently hospitalized with the virus.

Ferraro said SPH has had four patients hospitalized with COVID so far this month. At least a dozen Remdesivir antiviral infusions have been administered so far in July in the emergency room.

Due top the high COVID transmission rates, visitation is closed at SPH in the hospital and Long Term Care, with exceptions for end-of-life patients, pediatrics, surgery and obstetrics.

Health officials continue to emphasize the importance of vaccination now, so the upcoming fall and winter won’t take as much of a toll on Alaskans.

“We really want people to get vaccinated before school starts and before folks start heading indoors with the cooler weather coming on,” McLaughlin said.

According to the DHSS weekly update, from Jan. 1-July 3, Alaska has seen 514 hospitalizations and 82 deaths. Of the hospitalizations, 97% were of unvaccinated people. There was one death and 18 hospitalizations of people infected with COVID-19 who had been vaccinated and were two weeks beyond their final dose of a vaccine.

In the Kenai and Nikiski area, 39.4% have received one dose and 36.8% have received two doses. In the Seward area, 47.1% have received one dose and 44.6% have received two doses. In the Sterling CDP, 18.8% have received one dose and 17.6% have received two doses. In the “other north” area, 42.6% have received at least one dose and 40.1% are fully vaccinated.

In the Homer area, 61.7% have received one vaccine dose and 57.8% are fully vaccinated. In Anchor Point, 39.7% have received one dose and 37.4% are fully vaccinated. In the other south area — those Census Designated Places with less than 1,000 people — just 21.1% have received one dose and 20.1% are fully vaccinated.

The borough vaccination rates are based on a percentage of the population ages 12 and older — those age groups approved to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The community vaccination rates are based on a percentage of the total population, and thus the percentage would be less than if it applied to the vaccine eligible group. The total population number is based on 2020 estimates while the age 12 and older number is based on 2019 estimates.

For statewide and borough vaccination rates, as of Wednesday, 31,0745 Alaskans age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with 340,065 having received at least one dose.

As percentages, 51% of Alaskans age 12 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 56% had received at least one dose, according to information from DHSS.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has reached 46%, or 22,939 people, who have received at least one dose. and 21,556 or 43% who are fully vaccinated.

In the borough Office of Emergency Management, officials are watching the rising numbers closely, but have not yet made any recommendations to Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

“We certainly are continuing to monitor that and will advise the borough mayor if the situation changes,” said Bud Sexton, Director of Operations for emergency management.

Testing

Testing is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the SPH COVID-19 clinic on Bartlett Street for people with symptoms, traveling, for pre-procedure screening and for exposure six days after exposure of after being at social gatherings. Ferraro said there have been positive tests for fully vaccinated people, so it’s important to consider testing if you have symptoms even if you’re fully vaccinated.

Where to get vaccinated

South Peninsula Hospital continues to offer walk-in vaccines daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4201 Bartlett Street, and by appointment at www.sphosp.org. Vaccines also are offered by appointment at Homer Medical Clinic and the SPH Family Care Clinic. For more information at the Bartlett Street clinic, talk to your doctor or call 235-0235 for additional information. To make appointments at Homer Medical Center, call 235-8586. To make appointments at the South Peninsula Family Care Clinic, call 235-0900. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Pfizer vaccines are offered, with Moderna only on Fridays at the Bartlett Street clinic.

Safeway – Homer, 90 Sterling Highway, offers clinics 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday by appointment or walk-ins. Call 226-1060 for appointments. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are offered.

Kachemak Medical Group, 4129 Bartlett Street, offers vaccines by appointment. Call 235-7000.

Ulmer’s Pharmacy, 3858 Lake Street, offers Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment of walk-ins. Call 235-7760.

Ninilchik Clinic, 15765 Kingsley Road, Ninilchik offers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment and Pfizer on demand. Call 907-567-3970.

SVT Health & Wellness offers Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Moderna vaccines for established medical patients of the three SVT Health & Wellness locations: 880 East End Road, Homer (226-2228); 72351 Milo Fritz Ave., Anchor Point (226-2238), and 206 Main Street, Seldovia (907-435-3262)

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com and Homer News editor Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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