Omicron variant hits Alaska

As COVID-19 rates drop, first positive test of omicron reported in Alaskan who traveled abroad.

As COVID-19 rates continued to drop statewide, Alaska saw its first resident test positive for the omicron variant. On Monday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported an Anchorage resident who had recently traveled internationally showed the coronavirus variant that has caused concern internationally. Alaska became the 30th state to have an omicron case while more than 60 countries have had omicron cases.

Last Thursday at a press briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink had said there wasn’t yet a case of omicron, but added, “I think it’s only a matter of time.”

Omicron originated in South Africa and was labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization over Thanksgiving weekend. Health officials across the world are paying close attention to the strain, as it has 50 genetic mutations not seen in combination before, according to the Times.

Zink said Thursday that the medical community is still studying the variant’s behaviors.

“We’re all kind of processing this information together, and the big takeaways are (there’s) still lots to learn,” she said.

Some recent international studies, Zink said, have shown omicron to have a drastic uptick in cases and increased transmissibility. She said the next piece will be to determine the severity of the illness and how hospital capacity will be affected.

Locally, Homer showed an increase in the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, with a jump from 3% last week to 5% this week. South Peninsula Hospital also showed an increase in both tests and positive tests, with 637 tests done, of which 29 were positive, according to an email from SPH Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro.

Homer has the highest rate per 100,000 people on the Kenai Peninsula, at 221 cases per 100,000 compared to 102 cases per 100,000 for the central peninsula and 98 cases per 100,000 for the eastern peninsula.

However, emergency room visits were down over the last week, from eight last week to three in this week. Admissions also dropped, from three last week to just one this week. As of Wednesday morning, no one was hospitalized at SPH with COVID-19, Ferraro wrote,

Four Alaskans were reported to have died of COVID-19 since last Tuesday, including a Kenai woman in her 70s.

While the statewide alert level remains high at more than 100 cases per 100,000 people, the rate dropped from 224.2 per 100,000 last Tuesday to 175 on Monday. That’s a trend Zink noted last week.

“We’re finally coming down after this very broad and high surge that we’ve had here recently,” she said.

During the peak of the fall surge on Sept. 13, the state was reporting a seven-day average of 884.4 new COVID cases per day, which had surpassed the threshold for high risk more than eight times over.

“(We’re) grateful to see that coming down,” Zink said.

Southern Kenai Peninsula numbers, Dec. 8-14

Alert level: High

New total tests: 637 (tested through South Peninsula Hospital)

New positive tests: 29

Test positivity rate: 5%

Cumulative cases: 2,314 residents

New Emergency Room visits: 3

New hospitalizations: 1

Monoclonal antibody infusions: 10

Vaccinations: 185

Southern Kenai Peninsula cases (7-day rate, Dec. 6-12): 221 per 100,000 or 31 actual; high alert level

Central Kenai Peninsula cases (7-day rate, Dec. 6-12): 102 per 100,000 or 38 actual; high alert level

Eastern Kenai Peninsula cases (7-day rate, Dec. 6-12): 98 per 100,000 or five actual; substantial alert level

New deaths: 0

Cumulative deaths: 17 residents (nine in Homer, eight in Anchor Point)

Vaccination information: 74.2% of Homer’s population has received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 68.7% of eligible residents have completed a full vaccination series. In Anchor Point, 49.9% have received a first dose and 46.5% are fully vaccinated. In the other Kenai Peninsula south, 24.5% have received a first dose and 22.1% are fully vaccinated.

School cases: Homer High School, 1; Homer Middle School, 5; Paul Banks Elementary School, 1; West Homer Elementary School, 2.

State numbers, Dec. 6-12

Alert level: High, 175 per 100,000 (Dec. 12)

New cases: 1,295 residents, 20 nonresidents

Kenai Peninsula cases: Homer, 33; Kenai, 13; Soldotna, 11; Seward, 5; Anchor Point, 7; Nikiski, 3; Kenai Peninsula South, 1; Kenai Peninsula North, 7; Sterling, 4.

Test positivity rate: 3.57% (Dec. 12)

Cumulative cases: 148,380 residents and 5,455 nonresidents

Total hospitalizations: 3,149

Current hospitalizations: 63, five under investigation; 11 new hospitalizations since Dec. 6.

Patients on ventilators: 6

Hospitalization rate: 5.3%

New deaths: 4

Cumulative deaths: 857 residents, 30 nonresidents

Vaccination information: 62% of Alaska’s eligible population has received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 56.6% of eligible Alaskans have completed a full vaccination series.

Testing locations

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

The SPH COVID-19 testing and vaccine clinic is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Testing is 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 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

Following current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose. Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are available for anyone who is six months or more after their initial series of the Pfizer or Moderna series and are age 18 and older or anyone who is at least two months after their Janssen vaccine.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and boosters are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Janssen vaccines are offered only on Sundays and Tuesdays.

Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5-11 are available by appointment on Wednesday and Saturday.

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.

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 Peninsula Clarion reporter Camille Botello contributed to this story.