Homer schools go to universal masking

Increase in COVID-19 cases prompts Homer schools to require universal masking until at least Sept. 21.

An increase in COVID-19 positive cases in the Homer area has prompted Kenai Peninsula Borough School District officials to impose the universal wearing of face masks at local schools. The schools affected are Paul Banks Elementary School, West Homer Elementary School, Fireweed Academy, Homer Middle School, Homer Flex School and Homer High School. The mask order remains in place through Sept. 21, when it will be reevaluated.

“I think the biggest thing that triggered it at the high school level was the number of kids isolating. We had 40,” said Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski on Wednesday. He noted the high school had eight positive cases in two days.

“The reality is there are a lot of cases in the community that are going to end up in the building,” Waclawski added. “We just want to make sure we’re not the ones transmitting it.”

According to a new feature of the district’s COVID-19 reporting site, in the past seven days there have been 15 positive COVID-19 results among students or staff at those schools. Homer High School had five cases reported on Sept. 7 and 15 total, Paul Banks had two cases on Sept. 7 and three total, and West Homer had two cases on Sept. 7 and four total.

All three school district regions of the peninsula remain in the high alert level, with 660 cases per 100,000 for the central peninsula, 742 cases per 100,000 for the southern peninsula and 1,115 cases per 100,000 for the eastern peninsula.

District wide, since the start of the school year there have been 31 staff positives, 109 staff close contacts, 208 student positives, and 1,268 student close contacts. Not including the 1,087 students in the homeschool Connections program, there are 8,322 students attending school. That means that 17% of Kenai Peninsula students have either tested positive or had a close contact with a COVID-19 student.

According to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data summaries, for the reporting period of Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, there were 83 positive cases for Homer, 22 for Anchor Point and 15 for Kenai Peninsula South, for a total of 120 cases. One nonresident case tested in Homer also was reported.

Most areas of Alaska are in a high alert level, defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 people. The statewide alert level now stands at high, with 558 positive cases per 100,000 people for the past seven days. Statewide, 88,658 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 186 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalized, with 10 under suspicion of having COVID-19, for 196 total — the highest number in a reporting period. Twenty-three patients are on ventilators. The percentage rate of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is 17.5%. The testing rate is 8.5%.

South Peninsula Hospital has done 983 COVID-19 tests with 109 positive for the week of Sept. 1-7, SPH Public Information Officer and Marketing Director Derotha Ferraro wrote in an email on Wednesday. That’s an 11% positivity rate. In the same time period there were nine COVID-19 related visits to the emergency department and four new hospitalizations. The hospital has done 27 monoclonal antibody infusions and administered 81 new vaccinations.

Two people died of COVID-19 at Central Peninsula Hospital within the past four days, the hospital’s External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Tuesday.

They were a male and a female, Richards said, and they have not been reported via death certificate review by the state yet. Their ages were not disclosed.

Another patient, he said, was transported out of CPH and into another facility.

“The hospital is still at 100% capacity,” Richards said.

As of Tuesday, there were 17 COVID-related hospitalizations at CPH — 14 of the patients unvaccinated — with four people in the intensive care unit. There were zero patients on ventilators.

In its Tuesday report, the Department of Health and Social Services announced another 2,148 positive COVID cases statewide from Friday through Monday.

The case count included 91 in Kenai, 60 in Soldotna, 43 in Homer, 16 in Seward, 15 in Sterling, 14 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, nine in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, seven in Nikiski and five in Anchor Point.

There were two more deaths reported by the DHSS Tuesday — a Fairbanks male in his 50s and a Kusilvak area female in her 60s.

Testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

Capstone Clinic, a certified contractor of Alaska DHSS, will offer a pop-up testing event from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-11, at the Fritz Creek General Store parking lot. No appointment is necessary. Participants will enroll on a tablet at time of testing, and get results via email or in the COVID secure app. For more information, contact the Homer Public Health Office at 235-8857.

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.

SVT Health & Wellness offers testing to anyone at its 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).

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, Pfizer and Janssen vaccines are offered.

People who are immunocompromised can now get a third dose by either a provider’s referral or by submitting an attestation form.

People qualify for the third dose if they are receiving active cancer treatment, if they received an organ transplant and take medicine to suppress the immune system, if they have received a stem cell transplant within the last two years and take medicine to suppress the immune system, if they have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency, if they have an advanced or untreated HIV condition, or if they take high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune response.

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 Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.