A sign instructing patients and visitors on the COVID screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)

A sign instructing patients and visitors on the COVID screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)

COVID patients overwhelm hospital

Central Peninsula Hospital staff has opened up overflow space and put patients in old maternity wards.

More than half the patients at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Tuesday were being treated for COVID-19, External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said.

The hospital has been near, at, or overcapacity multiple times throughout the summer COVID surge. On Tuesday, 51% of the patients were there due to COVID complications.

“That’s a huge number,” Richards said. “It’s very busy.”

On Tuesday, the 49-licensed bed facility had 25 COVID inpatients total — 22 of them unvaccinated — with five in the intensive care unit and one on a ventilator.

The 25 COVID patients Tuesday morning only made up a portion of the 65 total admitted patients at CPH. That put the hospital at 132% capacity, and Richards said hospital staff has opened up overflow space and put patients in old maternity wards.

Richards also said CPH has been in contact with different hospitals in Anchorage to schedule patient transfers, but many care centers in the state’s biggest city are also overrun.

The Anchorage Daily News last week reported that Providence Medical Center started operating under crisis standards and began rationing care as almost one-third of the patients were admitted for COVID.

At CPH on Tuesday, Richards said, the staff was forced to cancel inpatient elective surgeries through Wednesday, and eight admitted patients — four of them in with COVID — were held up in the emergency room.

“We’re holding them in the emergency room because we don’t have space anywhere else,” he said.

One of those eight patients, Richards said, was waiting for ICU care.

Although the U.S. has seen a drop in COVID hospitalizations since August 31, Alaska is admitting more patients now than ever.

In the Gulf Coast — which includes the Kenai Peninsula — the total occupied COVID beds hit a high of 22 on Nov. 25 during last winter’s surge. This summer has far surpassed that record, setting a new high of 31 on Aug. 28.

Alaska was also named the state with the overall highest number of COVID cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, according to the New York Times, up 114% over the last 14 days. The national average case count per 100,000 was 41 Tuesday, and Alaska’s was more than double — at 114.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced another 861 COVID cases Tuesday, including 53 on the Kenai Peninsula.

One more peninsula COVID death was reported Tuesday — a Soldotna woman in her 70s — along with three Anchorage men, one Anchorage woman and a Dillingham area woman.

Richards said the hospital data speaks for itself — the majority of COVID hospitalizations at CPH are occurring in unvaccinated people.

“I would encourage people to give that another look,” Richards said.

COVID vaccines

Across Alaska, 57.5% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Another 62.5% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough continues to lag behind many places in the state.

As of Tuesday, 48.3% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 51.7% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region, which just barely broke a 40% full vaccination rate last week.

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 at least $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 COVID vaccines free of charge. 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-through 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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