A sign directing people to the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management walk-in clinic at Soldotna Prep School on Friday, May 14, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign directing people to the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management walk-in clinic at Soldotna Prep School on Friday, May 14, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

3 new COVID deaths reported; officials encourage vaccines as delta variant spreads

On Friday, the state announced another 108 COVID cases, which included seven on the Kenai Peninsula.

Three more Alaskans have died of COVID-19, the state reported last week.

The individuals included a Prince of Wales-Hyder area woman in her 50s, an Anchorage man in his 70s and a Wasilla man in his 80s.

This comes almost exactly 18 months after the first Alaska resident died of COVID in Washington state in March 2020. Alaska’s death toll has climbed to 370 since the pandemic began.

The Alaska State Department of Health and Social Services continues to report cases of the virus. On Friday, the state announced another 108 COVID cases, which included seven on the Kenai Peninsula.

Soldotna reported three. Anchor Point, Kenai, the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and Nikiski each reported one.

There were 42 new cases in Anchorage, 13 in Hooper Bay, six in Sitka, four in Fairbanks, three each in Eagle River, the Nome Census Area, Palmer and Wasilla, two each in the Bethel Census Area, Chugiak, the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Valdez and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, and one each in Big Lake, Chevak, Cordova, Juneau, Ketchikan, North Pole, Sutton-Alpine, Tok and Unalaska.

COVID cases in Alaska have decreased substantially since the height of the pandemic in mid-November 2020, but the state has fallen behind in vaccination rates.

In late January, Alaska had the highest vaccination rate in the country, which even garnered national coverage in the months when the state was on top.

Now, with the delta variant becoming progressively more prevalent in the United States, Alaska has fallen behind. According to NPR’s COVID tracker on Monday, the state was ranked at No. 30 with an approximate 44% of the total population fully vaccinated against the disease.

The Kenai Peninsula has the second-lowest full vaccination rate in the state at 43% of the population 12 and older, according to data released by the DHSS last Friday. The Matanuska-Susitna region is at the bottom with a 35% vaccination rate while Juneau leads with 72%.

Alaska health officials continue to implore residents to get their COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, especially as the Alaska state sequencing team detects more positive delta variant cases.

The delta strain has been labeled a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its tendency to be more transmissible, cause more severe coronavirus disease and significantly reduce neutralization by antibodies.

Public Health England reported the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalization due to the delta variant infection, the DHSS cited in its clinical update on Friday. In the article that has not yet been peer reviewed, Pfizer was found to be 96% and AstraZeneca was found to be 92% effective at preventing hospitalization because of the delta strain.

The DHSS clinical update included statistics about the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine’s effectiveness. The paper, which hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, stated that the shot appeared to elicit a high level of neutralizing antibody activity against the delta variant. Another study stated that the Janssen shot gives people eight months of COVID protection.

Getting vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge.

Multiple vaccination appointments were available at the Kenai Public Health Center as of Monday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

Vaccines are also available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270, by walk-in every week at the Soldotna Wednesday Market, and for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination. To schedule a ride, Alaska Cab can be reached at 907-283-6000 and CARTS can be reached at 907-262-8900.

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, Dena’ina Health Clinic, 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 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 from noon to 4 p.m. 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 Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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