This 2014 photo shows the South Peninsula Hospital campus in Homer. (Photo courtesy South Peninsula Hospital)

This 2014 photo shows the South Peninsula Hospital campus in Homer. (Photo courtesy South Peninsula Hospital)

Local hospital update: 37 COVID-19 tests have been performed

19 tests have come back negative; hospital further restricts building access

Updated numbers from South Peninsula Hospital as of Friday show that 37 people in Homer have been tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Of those 37 tests, 19 have come back negative so far, according to an email from hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro on March 27. The remaining 18 tests are still pending. Ferraro previously told the Homer News that the hospital is experiencing about a four-day turnaround time to get test results back. The hospital is utilizing both the state laboratory and a commercial lab for testing.

Not everyone is automatically eligible to be tested for the novel coronavirus. One current obstacle to testing in the United States is a nationwide shortage of nasopharyngeal swabs used to collect samples from patients.

According to the most recent testing standards from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the people who “should be considered” for COVID-19 testing and are high priority to be tested are those who have a “clinically compatible illness” such as a fever and a cough, or shortness of breath, and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Had close contact to a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days
  • Have traveled in the last 14 days to a location where community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring
  • Were hospitalized
  • Live in a long-term care facility
  • Are a health care worker or first responder (with a negative influenza test)

According to the most recent recommendations, people who are at a medium priority to be tested are those at increased risk of illness due to being over 60 years old or having a chronic medical condition such as asthma or heart disease, as well as any other patient determined by clinical discretion.

The new DHSS recommendations state that people with no symptoms are not to be tested.

The first Homer resident was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, although the person had just returned from traveling in the Lower 48, got tested when they landed in Anchorage, and have not returned to Homer. In anticipation of an increase in the number of patients coming in, Ferraro said the hospital is continuing to make changes and restrictions at the campus.

The only way into the hospital now is through the main entrance. Anyone entering must have a medical appointment or be seeking emergency care. Anyone entering the hospital is being screened first, Ferraro wrote in an email.

No visitors are allowed to any part of the hospital.

Ferraro also wrote that some hospital services are being relocated to alternative care sites. For example, physical therapy is now being done out of the hospital’s specialty clinic at 4201 Bartlett Street, and the Infusion Clinic is now “in the small building in front of the hospital,” she wrote. The Behavioral Health Department is now offering appointments to patients via telehealth, Ferarro said.

The hospital has postponed all nonessential procedures and appointments.

If you know you’ve been in close contact with a lab confirmed case of COVID-19 infection, you are urged to call the Homer Public Health Center at 907-235-8857 or the Alaska Division of Epidemiology at 907-269-8000.

There is also a Homer Call Line for residents to connect with for more information on how the city is responding to the pandemic. You can call 907-435-3197 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Or, email Homer’s Emergency Operations Center at eoc-pio@ci.homer.ak.us for information and local resources.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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