Update, Aug, 27: This story has been updated with more information on the date of the Homer COVID-19 deaths. The deaths were associated with an increase in reported cases that started in early and mid June.
Three Homer men have recently died of COVID-19, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced in its daily summary for Tuesday. The deaths were determined through death certificate reviews.
The men who died were a man age 80 and older and two men in their 50s. To protect patient privacy, DHSS does not give an exact age. DHSS did not give the exact date of the deaths.
In an email, DHSS spokesperson Elizabeth Manning noted that the Homer deaths were associated with the rapid acceleration in reported cases that began in early and mid-June this year. Statewide, there were two deaths in May, one death in June, eight deaths in July and 14 deaths in August.
In Tuesday’s summary, DHSS also reported eight more deaths. They are: a recent death of an Anchorage woman in her 60s; (deaths reported through death certificate review of) a Fairbanks woman in her 70s, a Fairbanks woman in her 60s, an Anchorage man 80 and older, an Anchorage man in his 70s, an Anchorage woman in her 70s, an Anchorage man in his 70s, an Anchorage man in his 60s, an Anchorage man in his 30s and a Soldotna woman in her 70s.
According to an explanation of the death certificate review process on the DHSS website, all reported Alaska COVID-19 deaths have the virus listed on a death certificate as an immediate or underlying cause of death (Part I of a death certificate) or as a contributory cause of death (Part II).
“Most Alaskan deaths have listed COVID-19 somewhere in the lethal chain of conditions within Part I,” the website notes.
Most areas of Alaska are in a high alert level, defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 people.
The COVID-19 deaths were reported as the southern Kenai Peninsula continues to see positive COVID-19 cases, with 136 reported on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard for the period of Aug. 15 through Aug. 24. Homer had 103 cases, Anchor Point had 23, Fritz Creek had three and the Kenai Peninsula Borough-South had seven.
According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, all three areas of the peninsula remain in high alert status, with 215 cases for the central peninsula over the last seven days, 136 cases for the southern peninsula over the last seven days and 38 cases for the eastern peninsula over the last seven days.
At Capstone Clinic pop-up testing done at the Homer Public Library from Aug. 15 to Aug. 20, 959 people were tested, with 97 positive, or a 10.11% positivity rate.
“That’s a good indication of risk,” said Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll in a COVID-19 briefing before the Homer City Council on Monday.
Carroll said a positivity rate greater than 5% suggests testing is missing positive cases in the community. On one day last week at the Capstone Clinic pop-up, Aug. 20, 14.29% of all tests were positive.
“Businesses are having a hard time staying open,” Carroll said. “… Folks are getting hammered. A message to these folks — we want to say, hang in there.”
South Peninsula Hospital also has seen more COVID-19 activity. In an email on Wednesday, public information officer Derotha Ferraro reported that for the week of Aug. 18-24, the hospital saw 13 COVID-19 related visits to the Emergency Room, four new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 955 tests done with 74 positive results, a weekly positivity rate of 8%. The hospital also has administered 28 outpatient monoclonal antibody treatments and given 106 vaccines.
In response to a question from council member Caroline Venuti about if hospital staff were fatigued, Ferraro said, “It’s real. … The fatigue is in all the extra layers and guidance you follow for all that … It’s also created by the isolation and quarantine that you have to have when you have an exposure.”
The fatigue is being managed, though, Ferraro added, with no lapses in care. Vaccination rates are increasing among hospital staff, with 69% of patient care employees fully vaccinated and 66% of all employees fully vaccinated. The hospital does not require vaccines for patients or staff.
In a follow up email on Wednesday, Ferraro wrote that the hospital is waiting for guidance from the federal government regarding a mandate from President Joe Biden that staff be vaccinated in nursing homes that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding.
“We are working through the state and national nursing home association to bring attention to the unintended negative consequences this could have in small communities like Homer,” she wrote.
Ferraro said that by the end of this week she hopes to have more testing kits that can provide rapid results with 24 hours.
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
The Ninilchik Tribal Council Mobile Community Clinic offers a free testing and vaccine event from 11 a.m. to 6 pm. Friday, Aug. 27, at 33935 Sterling Highway next to the Cheeky Moose Laundromat. Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines will be offered.
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 and Pfizer vaccines are offered, with Moderna only on Fridays at the Bartlett Street clinic. The clinic currently is out of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines.
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 email@example.com.