Aaron Rhoades, Charlie Pierce, Richard Derkevorkian and Jesse Bjorkman listen to testimony during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Aaron Rhoades, Charlie Pierce, Richard Derkevorkian and Jesse Bjorkman listen to testimony during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough to use grant funds for COVID treatments, testing

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a spending plan for the funds during the body’s Feb. 1 meeting

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will use $100,000 in grant money to expand COVID-19 testing and treatment options for borough residents.

The money was made available through an Alaska Department of Health and Social Services program meant to support the creation of “healthy and equitable” communities in Alaska in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, the borough received roughly $154,000 through the program, but gave $54,000 to the Kenai Peninsula Homeless Coalition to support homelessness facilities. Following assembly approval of that transaction in January, Love INC Executive Director Leslie Rohr confirmed to the Clarion that the money will be used to help operate a new cold weather shelter in Nikiski.

Under a spending plan approved by the assembly during the body’s Feb. 1 meeting, the remaining $100,000 will be used for “sustainable” COVID-19 testing and treatment options. The borough issued a request for proposals for the project, specifying that proposals must outline options that meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Rachel Chaffee told assembly members during a Feb. 1 finance committee meeting that those expectations and parameters are also outlined in the request for proposals.

When asked about the use of monoclonal antibodies as a potential COVID-19 treatment option during the same committee meeting, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said medical decisions will be left to health care professionals and the agencies awarding the grant.

“The administration’s position is that we’ll leave the doctoring to the doctors and use the healthy communities grants monies that are left to follow the rules of the provisions in the grants and hope that it provides some benefit to residents here on the peninsula,” Pierce said.

The approval comes as high numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to be reported in Kenai Peninsula communities and vaccination rates among residents remain low.

Nearly 700 cases have been reported over the last seven days on the Kenai Peninsula, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, which pulls data from DHSS and breaks out case totals by community. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the state, with roughly 48.7% of residents aged five and older fully vaccinated, according to DHSS.

Activities funded through the DHSS grant program must have an emphasis on “high risk, underserved population groups,” according to a DHSS explanation of the grant program. Those activities and strategies may include expanding existing COVID-19 mitigation services to ensure adequate baseline care for high risk populations disproportionately affected by COVID, improving access to vaccines, or promoting healthy and equitable communities, among other things.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna also received funds through the DHSS program. The City of Soldotna plans to use its approximately $50,000 to create a mobile recreation program, while the City of Kenai wants to construct a boardwalk near the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center.

Meetings of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly can be viewed on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

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

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