Signs on Saturday, March 28, 2020, at the main entrance to South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska, warn visitors not to enter until they have been met by hospital staff. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Signs on Saturday, March 28, 2020, at the main entrance to South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska, warn visitors not to enter until they have been met by hospital staff. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

South Peninsula Hospital continues testing, preparations for COVID-19

As the state of Alaska slowly reopens sections of its economic sector, Homer’s local hospital continues its work testing for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and preparing for potential new cases.

Homer has two recorded cases of COVID-19 that affected its residents — one that was tested locally at South Peninsula Hospital, and one that was tested and isolated in Anchorage. An Anchor Point man in his 30s also died of the illness while outside of Alaska, the state reported.

As of Wednesday morning, South Peninsula Hospital had sent 198 total samples off for testing, according to hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro. Of those tests, 182 have come back negative and 15 are pending. SPH still only has the one positive test result from last month. The hospital utilizes both the state testing laboratory and a commercial lab. The turnaround time for test results is three to four days.

South Peninsula Hospital also has an Abbott Laboratories rapid testing machine. This machine can be used to get positive test results quickly and on scene at the hospital. All negative test results gotten through the Abbott machine have to be sent to the state lab to be double checked, though, because the machine is less sensitive than the equipment used at the state lab and therefore poses the risk of false negatives.

The hospital has both an alternate care site set up at Christian Community Church and an alternate testing site at the Homer Chamber of Commerce. The alternate care site can house up to 40 patients and will be used if there are patients who test positive for COVID-19 and are deemed to have a moderate case. More severe cases will be treated in the 30 beds set aside for COVID-19 patients at the main hospital campus.

The alternate testing site will start being used once the hospital starts performing 20 tests or more per day, Ferraro has told the Homer News. Right now, test sample collection is still being done in a drive-through style at the hospital.

Setting up the alternate test site was a move to be prepared for an anticipated increase in testing needs locally in the Homer area. The state recently broadened its testing criteria even more, and is now advising that anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 get tested. The common symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Additional symptoms include chills, diminished sense of taste or smell, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, muscle/joint aches, nausea, rash, rigors, runny nose, sore throat, or sputum production. You can read the full guidelines on testing in Alaska at dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/healthcare.aspx under the “Testing Guidelines and Laboratories” section.

Other than those entering a health care facility or patients undergoing procedures, the state is not generally advising that asymptomatic people be tested, except in special circumstances.

Those experiencing symptoms and wishing to be tested need to contact their regular health care provider. If you don’t have one, you are encouraged to call South Peninsula Hospital at 907-235-0235.

South Peninsula Hospital also announced on its Facebook page on Tuesday that it received 200 boxes of gloves, 300 gowns and 4,000 procedure masks from the state, via the National Strategic Stockpile.

Additionally, the hospital and its associated clinics are slowly beginning to provide other medical services again, according to Ferraro. Elective procedures had originally been postponed to summer by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, but the passage of mandate 15 last week allowed elective procedures and services to start back up again on Monday.

Ferraro said people should contact their normal providers for more details. The walk in clinic at Homer Medical Center is open from 5-8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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