This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)

5 more COVID deaths reported

The total nationwide fatalities surpass population of Alaska.

There were five more COVID-19 fatalities in Alaska announced Friday, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Three were Anchorage residents, one a woman in Fairbanks and one a woman in the Bethel Census Area. One nonresident death in Wasilla was also reported.

Friday’s new COVID deaths have contributed to the 673 total in the state and over 736,000 nationwide. The number of people who have died of COVID in the United States now exceeds the entire population of the state of Alaska, which was 733,391 according to the 2020 census.

The state also announced 877 positive COVID cases Friday as Alaska remained at a high alert level — with an estimated seven-day rolling average of 744.7 cases per 100,000 people across the state.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. The state has surpassed that metric more than seven times over.

Friday’s new case count included 28 in Kenai, 18 in Soldotna, nine in Homer, eight in both Nikiski and Seward, five each in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and Sterling, and one in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South.

Statewide there were 234 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Friday, with 32 of them on ventilators.

At Central Peninsula Hospital there were 24 COVID patients on Friday morning — 21 of them unvaccinated — with six in the intensive care unit and four on ventilators. The hospital as a whole was operating at 114% capacity.

Health officials widely agree that choosing to get vaccinated against COVID is the single best way to avoid serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration for anyone 16 and older in August. Pfizer is still available via emergency use authorization in accordance to FDA guidelines for kids 12 to 15 years old.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots are FDA approved for emergency use for anyone 18 and older.

The FDA also approved a third dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in immunocompromised people in August.

Additionally, in September the FDA approved a booster dose for the Pfizer shot. They are available for anyone 65 years or older, anyone 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, anyone 18 and older with underlying health conditions and anyone 18 and older working in high-risk settings.

Primary care providers can determine eligibility for an initial vaccine series, as well as immunocompromised third shots and booster doses.

Across the state, 59.7% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID as of Friday. Another 64.6% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind many other regions.

As of Friday, 50% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 53.8% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region on Wednesday, at 43%.

Since some Alaskans have received booster doses, the DHSS issued a disclaimer that vaccine rate data may be an overestimation.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

As an incentive to get the shots, the DHSS and Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of $49,000. To find out the eligibility requirements or to enter into the giveaway sweepstakes, visit giveakashot.com. The lottery lasts through Oct. 30.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department offer vaccines. They are also available 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.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

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.

COVID testing locations

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

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. Starting Sept. 14, the Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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