COVID-19 cases are rising and health officials say new variants are likely spurring the increase, even among the vaccinated. But health officials note the majority of hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in unvaccinated people. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

COVID-19 cases are rising and health officials say new variants are likely spurring the increase, even among the vaccinated. But health officials note the majority of hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in unvaccinated people. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Alaska COVID numbers keep rising

Alaska saw its largest single-day COVID-19 case increase since January on Wednesday, when the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 376 new resident and nonresident cases. More than 1,500 cases have been reported statewide over the past seven days, including 158 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Those numbers come amid stagnating rates of COVID-19 vaccination. State and federal health officials have emphasized vaccination is the best way for people to protect themselves against severe COVID illness.

On the Kenai Peninsula, 44.3% of residents 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, while 47.3% of residents 12 and older have received at least one dose. That’s compared to 52.2% of Alaska residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated and 57.4% who have received at least one dose.

Central Peninsula Hospital was treating 12 COVID-positive patients on Wednesday morning, with another in the emergency department about to be admitted, said CPH External Affairs Director Bruce Richards. Of the 12 patients already being treated by the hospital, 11 were unvaccinated, Richards said.

Richards said the most COVID patients CPH has ever treated at one time was 16, in November 2020. With the new patient admitted Wednesday, the hospital was treating 13. A COVID-19 patient in his 70s died at CPH on Monday and another was medevaced to Seattle for a “higher level of care” last weekend. Another patient was still on a ventilator as of Wednesday.

The hospital revised their visitation guidance Tuesday afternoon. Patients who do not have COVID-19 are limited to one visitor per patient. COVID-positive patients are not allowed any visitors except in an end-of-life situation, with some exceptions for different situations.

People who are fully vaccinated, the CDC says, can reduce their risk of being infected with the delta variant and possibly spreading it to others by wearing a mask indoors in public while in an area with substantial or high transmission.

According to the CDC, areas of “high transmission” are those where, over the last seven days, more than 100 cases have been reported per 100,000 people.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported 158 resident and nonresident cases over the past week, according to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

With a population of 56,218, that case rate makes the borough an area where the CDC now recommends wearing masks indoors.

The CDC now also recommends getting tested for COVID-19 three to five days after being exposed to someone who has the virus, even if fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people exposed to someone with COVID-19 should also wear a mask indoors in public for two weeks following exposure or until receipt of a negative test result.

The B.1.672.2, or delta, COVID-19 variant, has been labeled as a “variant of concern” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Variants of concern are those for which there is evidence of, among other things, an increase in transmissibility and more severe disease. The delta variant specifically has been associated with increased transmissibility.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Clayton Holland has previously stated that the district intends to make masks optional for students and staff for the upcoming school year, but will continue to follow mitigation protocols implemented last year. Those protocols include upgraded HVAC systems in school buildings, social distancing and continued messaging about hygiene etiquette, including frequent hand washing. Holland has also said the district will not track COVID-19 vaccination rates among students or staff.

KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Wednesday that the district had no updates to their mitigation policy as of Wednesday.

“I anticipate that there will be ongoing information and discussions with the state, districts and team,” Erkeneff said.

Four new cases were also reported out of Seldovia for Monday and Tuesday, according to Seldovia Village Tribe Health & Wellness. That’s in addition to 13 cases reported in the community during the week of July 19. Closures of the Seldovia Ferry Terminal and the city’s Senior Meals Program were announced later that week “out of an abundance of precaution due to active COVID-19 cases in the community.”

Spiking case numbers have prompted operational changes across the peninsula. Upcoming watch parties for Olympic gold medalist Lydia Jacoby’s upcoming events have been moved outside, with organizers citing COVID case numbers. The delta variant has also been confirmed in Seward.

The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge visitor center in Homer announced Wednesday that it would temporarily close to visitors, citing COVID case numbers. River City Books in Soldotna, which requires shoppers to wear masks, was found vandalized with anti-masking rhetoric Wednesday.

COVID-19 vaccines and tests continue to be available at multiple locations across the borough. A list of available vaccination appointments can be found on the state’s scheduling program at myhealth.alaska.gov. More information about COVID-19 in Alaska can be found on DHSS’ website at covid19.alaska.gov.

The Pfizer & BioNTech vaccine, which is available to people 12 and older, requires two doses administered three weeks apart and is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection. The Moderna vaccine, which is available to people 18 and older, requires two doses administered one month apart and is also more than 90% effective. Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine, which is available to people 18 and older and requires only one dose, is about 66.3% effective.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance specific to whether or not someone is vaccinated. Someone is considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine.

People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to follow COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including wearing a mask in indoor public places, social distancing from people outside of their household, getting vaccinated, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning high touch surfaces daily and monitoring their health daily.

COVID-19 tests and vaccines continue to be available on the Kenai Peninsula. More information about COVID-19 in Alaska can be found on DHSS’ website at covid19.alaska.gov.

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

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