COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Alaska reports its 1st omicron case

The case was reported in an Anchorage resident who had tested positive for the virus after traveling internationally.

The first case of the omicron COVID-19 variant was detected in Alaska on Monday, the state Department of Health and Social Services announced.

The case was sequenced and identified at the Alaska State Public Health Laboratory from an Anchorage resident who had tested positive for the virus after traveling internationally in November.

According to data from the New York Times on Monday, the omicron variant had already been detected in 32 other states as well as Washington, D.C.

State health officials are monitoring the behaviors of the variant closely, as there are still a lot of unknowns about the transmissibility and severity of omicron.

One message remains consistent: Vaccination is the best protection Alaskans have against any variant of the coronavirus.

“Protective measures against the variant remain the same as for the other COVID virus variants,” the DHSS press release stated. “The Anchorage Health Department and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services encourage Alaskans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven’t already done so and to get boosted if you’re eligible. Layering on other protective measures, including masking, handwashing, physical distancing and testing can also help to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus, including Omicron.”

The DHSS also announced 442 new COVID cases from over the weekend and one new death Monday.

The man who died was a Ketchikan resident in his 60s.

The Times reported Monday that one in every 100 seniors over 65 years old in the United States has already died of COVID, accounting for about 60,000 of the nearly 800,000 total COVID deaths in the country.

Cases and hospitalizations have been trending downward statewide, but Alaska remained at a high COVID transmission alert level Monday — with an estimated rolling average of 175.3 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

In comparison, during the peak of the fall surge on Sept. 13, the state was reporting a seven-day average of 884.4 new COVID cases per day, which had surpassed the threshold for high risk more than eight times over.

Monday’s new case count included 14 in Homer, seven in Kenai, three in Sterling, two each in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and Nikiski, and one in both Seward and Soldotna.

Statewide there were 68 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Monday, with six patients on ventilators.

As of Monday, 59.7% of Alaskans 5 and older — which includes residents and military personnel — were fully vaccinated, and another 66.8% had received at least one dose. The Kenai Peninsula Borough was behind in vaccine coverage, with 47.1% of people 5 and older fully vaccinated and 51% with at least one shot as of Monday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

The Pfizer booster vaccine was approved last week for 16- and 17-year-olds. Pfizer boosters are now recommended for anyone 16 and older and six months out from their second dose.

Moderna boosters are also recommended for anyone 18 and older and six months out from their second dose. The J&J vaccine booster is recommended for people 18 and older and two months after the primary dose.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many organizations on the central peninsula, including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, 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. The clinic has extended its hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 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 the DHSS COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance 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. The Seward Community Health Center at 417 First Avenue is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays only. Bring a face covering and photo ID.

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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