State officials brief members of the media on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Alaska. (Screenshot)

State officials brief members of the media on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Alaska. (Screenshot)

1st case of UK COVID variant announced

The variant was detected in an Anchorage resident who tested positive last month

The first Alaska case of a variant strain of COVID-19 — detected in an Anchorage resident last month — was announced Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

During a press briefing, DHSS officials said that the individual tested positive last month after returning from travel in a state in the Lower 48 where the variant had also been detected. The individual began experiencing symptoms on Dec. 17, was tested on Dec. 20 and received their results on Dec. 22.

Officials said the other person in the individual’s household tested positive for COVID, but it is unknown whether or not they were also infected with the variant strain. Both isolated and have recovered. Officials said that more cases of the COVID variant are expected to be announced in Alaska and that data suggests the variant is more transmittable.

The specific strain was originally detected last September in the United Kingdom and is known as B.1.1.7. It is one of several COVID variants spreading worldwide as of Tuesday, including one that originated in Brazil and is known as P.1 and another that originated in South Africa and is known as 1.351.

According to the DHSS release, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had counted 293 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain in 24 U.S. states.

During the same briefing, DHSS also announced that the state will receive 59,600 more initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the month of February, including 18,500 doses allocated to the Indian Health Service (IHS).

In total, the state has been allocated 174,400 vaccine doses for the months of December, January and February. Of the 114,800 doses Alaska had already received as of Tuesday, 101,585 had been administered, though that number is expected to be higher due to a lag in reporting. According to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, 5,199 people in the “Kenai Peninsula Region” had received the COVID-19 vaccine and 1,296 had already received both doses. As of Tuesday, 82,468 Alaskans had received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, with 19,117 having already received both.

More vaccination appointments are expected to open statewide on Thursday at noon, officials said. Demand for COVID-19 vaccination appointments has been high on the peninsula and statewide. Large vaccination clinics offered last weekend saw the successful vaccination of hundreds of peninsula residents. The state also launched a vaccine scheduling hotline this week, which can be accessed at 907-646-3322.

State officials also announced that out of the more than 300 people tested, 135 workers at Trident Seafoods on the island of Akutan in the Aleutians have tested positive for COVID-19. DHSS is helping the company mitigate the outbreak. As of Tuesday, five individuals with COVID-19 had been medevaced off the island and high-risk individuals were being evacuated.

The announcements come amid one of the state’s lowest daily case increases in months. DHSS announced 89 new COVID-19 cases in Alaska on Tuesday, continuing a downward trend in case numbers statewide. The state announced 84 new cases on Monday, which was the first time a daily case increase of less than 100 had been reported since last September.

Tuesday’s new cases include three on the Kenai Peninsula, with one each in Homer, Seward and Soldotna, and bring Alaska’s statewide case total to 53,487, including 51,778 among residents and 1,709 among nonresidents.

At Central Peninsula Hospital, External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Tuesday that the hospital was treating zero patients who were COVID-19 positive with no patients on ventilators and no new resident cases at Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility.

Along with vaccination rollout, COVID testing continues statewide and on the peninsula. Over the past week, the Kenai Peninsula Borough conducted 1,088 tests and saw a positivity rate of 1.38%. The borough has conducted 60,330 tests to date. Statewide, 28,376 COVID-19 tests were conducted over the past week, which saw a positivity rate of 3.07%. To date, 1,460,189 tests have been conducted in Alaska.

The current statewide alert level, based on the average daily case rate for the last two weeks, is high. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s rate is also high at 11.99.

The state also reported nine new hospitalizations and one new death among Alaska residents on Tuesday. DHSS began including “probable deaths” in the death and case counts on Jan. 4. To date, 1,170 Alaska residents have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 258 have died.

As of Tuesday, there were 57 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, including one patient under investigation for the disease. Five of the patients are on ventilators.

In addition to the three new cases on the peninsula, the state also reported 20 new cases in Anchorage, 12 in Wasilla, 11 in Bethel Census Area, seven in Fairbanks, five in Juneau, five in Kusilvak Census Area, four in Bethel, four in Mat-Su Borough, three in Eagle River, two in Sutton-Alpine, two in Unalaska and one each in Big Lake, Chugiak, Cordova, Haines, Kotzebue, Nome Census Area, North Pole and Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area.

Three nonresident cases were also reported in Unalaska.

Who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine right now?

In determining who is able to get the COVID vaccine and when, the state considers recommendations from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Vaccine allocation is divided into three phases.

Those phases are divided into sub-phases. Those sub-phases are then divided further into tiers. Front-line health care workers, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities were given first priority in Phase 1a, Tier 1.

Phase 1a, Tier 2 includes front-line EMS and Fire Service personnel frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients, community health aides/practitioners and health care workers providing vaccinations. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tiers 1 and 2 began on Dec. 15.

Phase 1a, Tier 3 includes workers in health care settings who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and who are essential to the health care infrastructure who meet specific criteria outlined by the state. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tier 3 began on Jan. 4.

COVID-19 testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula

On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.

In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital’s Specialty Clinic as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.

In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The testing is only for those traveling, symptomatic, needing testing for medical procedures, or with a known exposure after seven days. Only 20 tests will be offered per day. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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