Harrison Smith, South Peninsula Hospital Facilities Manager, stands by medical oxygen tanks on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2021, at the hospital in Homer, Alaska. Smith, a certified medical gas technician, has been involved with the med-gas system management at South Peninsula Hospital for 18 years. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro / South Peninsula Hospital)

Harrison Smith, South Peninsula Hospital Facilities Manager, stands by medical oxygen tanks on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2021, at the hospital in Homer, Alaska. Smith, a certified medical gas technician, has been involved with the med-gas system management at South Peninsula Hospital for 18 years. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro / South Peninsula Hospital)

Two southern peninsula residents die of COVID-19

South Peninsula Hospital has adequate reserves for medical oxygen despite increased demand.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported two new southern Kenai Peninsula COVID-19 deaths this week: a Homer woman in her 60s and an Anchor Point man in his 60s. Part of five recent deaths reported by DHSS on Sept. 20, they come on top of one death of Anchorage man in his 60s reported last week and six deaths reported Tuesday.

The latest group of deaths includes a Soldotna woman in her 70s, two Anchorage men in their 70s, an Anchorage woman in her 70s, an Anchorage man 80 or older, and a Dillingham Census Area woman in her 60s. As of Tuesday, 465 Alaskans have died of COVID-19.

On the southern peninsula, five people in Homer and four in Anchor Point have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic, with 32 total deaths for the Kenai Peninsula.

On Monday, Homer Mayor Ken Castner and the Homer City Council released a letter strongly encouraging everyone in the city to take stronger COVID-19 mitigation measures, including wearing face masks in public, socially distancing and getting vaccinated. The full letter is on page A4.

South Peninsula Hospital continues to be stressed by COVID-19 patients. Two elective surgeries last week that required overnight stays had to be postponed until early October, hospital Public Information Officer and Director of Marketing Derotha Ferraro wrote in an email. The delay to October was related to the surgeon’s and operating room schedule, Ferraro said. Day surgeries scheduled for later last week were rescheduled to early last week. Most surgeries are day surgery, she said.

The hospital last week also had a drop in flow rate for the lines that provide medical oxygen to rooms. Ferraro said once alarms alerted staff to the situation, they quickly added reserve units to the system, with no threat to patients on piped oxygen. The hospital also can provide oxygen through tanks carried to patient rooms, with ample supplies on hand.

Respiratory therapy for some COVID-19 patients requires higher concentrations of oxygen. The increased demand for oxygen came about because at the time the hospital had six COVID-19 positive patients and one other non-COVID patient on oxygen. There were 12 total patients in the hospital at that time. The stress on oxygen delivery has more to do with some patients needing a higher rate of flow for oxygen.

“Due to the impact of COVID, we are now more frequently using oxygen delivery methods that rely on high flow rates,” Ferraro wrote.

COVID-19 patients have varying needs for oxygen. A patient starts with low-flow oxygen at about 15 liters per minute, Ferraro wrote. If they require more oxygen, they are placed on non-invasive ventilators which can include high-flow nasal cannula (the tubes that go into the nose) or a BiPAP or bi-level positive air pressure machine. If they need more oxygen, they require a mechanical ventilator. As a patient improves, they step down in the reverse direction. Patients also can be sent home with a portable oxygen concentrator if they require continued therapy, Ferraro wrote.

South Peninsula Hospital gets its oxygen from several suppliers. AirGas is a long-standing supplier, and SPH recently contracted with another supplier, Matheson, to provide medical oxygen. Ferraro wrote that supplies are in good shape, with 100 cylinders at the hospital, 24 tanks reserved at AirGas in Homer and another 130 at Matheson’s site in Kenai. That is triple the reserves the hospital had before the pandemic, Ferraro wrote. The hospital also has ordered a tank of liquid oxygen and adapters to connect it to its system. One cylinder of liquid oxygen is equivalent to 36 tanks of regular oxygen.

Statewide, AirGas remains committed to meeting medical oxygen needs caused by the pandemic, wrote AirGas director of corporate communications Kim Menard in an email. AirGas mobilized its resources to meet the increased demand, she wrote. In Alaska, that includes an in-state air separation unit and cylinder filling operations.

In other news, the pandemic did result in a positive effect in one respect, the Alaska DHSS Epidemiology Section reported in a bulletin released Monday: positive influenza tests declined dramatically for the 2020-21 flu season. Compared to average year reports of 4,000-7,000 cases, last season saw only 124 positive reports. That’s out of 522 tests, about 10% of the tests done in an average season. Two adult deaths associated with flu were identified through health care provider reports and death certificate reviews.

The low influenza numbers were consistent with U.S. and world reports, the bulletin noted, “due to extensive community mitigation measures undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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 803 positive cases per 100,000 people for the past seven days. Statewide, 98,991 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19 — about 13% of all Alaskans. As of Tuesday, the percentage rate of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is 18.1%. The testing rate is 9.62%.

South Peninsula Hospital has done 806 COVID-19 tests with 75 positive for the week of Sept. 15-21, Ferraro wrote in an email on Wednesday. That’s a 7% positivity rate. In the same time period there were nine COVID-19 related visits to the emergency department. The hospital did 12 outpatient monoclonal antibody infusions and administered 94 new vaccinations. In the same time period, three new COVID-19 patients were admitted, with an average rate of four patients daily. As of Wednesday morning, five COVID-19 patients were hospitalized out of 12 total. The hospital has 51 monoclonal antibody infusions available, with supplies replenished weekly.

At South Peninsula Hospital, because of the level of community spread of COVID-19, visitors are not allowed except for those with appointments. Long Term Care is open to approved visitors by appointment. One designated visitor per patient per stay is permitted for pediatric patients, obstetric patients, surgery patients and end of life care.

Testing locations

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

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.

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