The Kenai Peninsula is starting to feel the effects of the statewide spike in COVID-19 cases.
Central Peninsula Hospital opened nine surge beds Tuesday, eight of which are occupied. The hospital was at capacity on Monday, and on Tuesday was treating 15 patients who are COVID-19 positive.
CPH External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Tuesday that COVID-19 positive patients are being kept in regular and ICU beds and that “lower acuity” patients have been moved to surge space. As of Tuesday, there were no patients on ventilators. Richards also said that the hospital has more surge spaces they can use if necessary, and that the real problem they are facing is a staffing shortage.
In a conversation with the Clarion last week, Richards said that 76 of CPH’s approximate 1,000 total staff were in quarantine either because they had tested positive for COVID-19 or because they had been identified as close contacts of someone who was COVID-19 positive. On Tuesday, Richards said, the number had jumped to 87.
Staffing shortages are especially troubling, Richards said last week, because it is difficult to recruit workers from the Lower 48, partly because moving to Alaska in the winter is a hard sell and partly because a staffing shortage is being experienced nationwide.
There were also 16 COVID-positive residents at CPH’s Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility, with nine new positive cases reported Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, CPH had conducted 8,465 tests with 7,837 negative, 404 positive and 43 pending results. South Peninsula Hospital had conducted 12,449 tests as of Tuesday with 12,044 negative, 227 positive and 178 pending results.
Also on Tuesday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 637 new COVID-19 cases, including 40 on the Kenai Peninsula. Affected peninsula communities include Soldotna with 16 cases, Kenai with 15 cases, Homer with three cases, Sterling with two cases, Nikiski with one case, “other North” with one case, “other South” with one case and Seward with one case.
The state temporarily disabled its cases dashboard on Tuesday due to a lag caused by statewide case increases.
“Due to the increase in cases statewide, certain areas of data entry are lagging far behind real-time and we are not able to update cases with the date they are released from isolation (recovered),” the dashboard read. “As a result, we are removing the active and recovered case counts from the data hub to prevent inaccurate or outdated information from being reported.”
The dashboard came back online later in the day.
Tuesday was the 12th day in a row that the state reported a daily case increase of more than 450 and the fifth day in a row that the state recorded a daily case increase of more than 550. The state broke a record last Friday when 743 cases were reported.
Over the past week, the Kenai Peninsula Borough conducted 1,370 tests and saw a positivity rate of 12.04%.
The new cases bring Alaska’s statewide case total to 25,041, including 23,874 residents and 1,167 nonresidents.
The state also reported 14 new hospitalizations and one new death. To date, 562 Alaska residents have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 34 on the peninsula. A total of 99 Alaskans, including five peninsula residents, have died from the disease.
The person who died was an Anchorage man in his 90s.
Currently, there are 143 people hospitalized in Alaska who are COVID-19 positive or who are considered persons under investigation for the disease. Eleven of the patients are on ventilators.
Alaska’s daily positivity rate for the past seven days, during which 24,434 tests were conducted, is 7.91%. To date, 878,622 tests have been conducted in Alaska.
In addition to the 40 cases reported on the peninsula Tuesday, the state also reported 433 in Anchorage, 52 in Eagle River, 20 in Fairbanks, 20 in Wasilla, 10 in Chugiak, eight in Bethel, five in Juneau, five in Palmer, four in Bristol Bay Lake and Peninsula Boroughs, four in Dillingham, four in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, three in Kodiak, three in North Pole, two in Bethel Census Area, two in Girdwood, two in Kusilvak Census Area, two in Nome, two in North Slope Borough, two in Sitka, two in Utqiagvik, two in Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and one each in Aleutians West Census Area, Healy, Kotzebue and Sutton-Alpine.
Six new nonresident cases were also reported. One was reported in Anchorage and five have locations under investigation.
The state also provided updates on recent outbreaks at the Anchorage and Fairbanks Pioneer Homes. At the Anchorage location, nine residents and four staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since the last update on Nov. 10. In total, 15 residents and seven staff have tested positive, with one resident hospitalized and no deaths.
At the Fairbanks location, no new COVID-19 cases have been reported since the last update on Nov. 10. In total, 38 residents and 32 staff tested positive since Sept. 21. According to the state, another round of testing is being conducted and if all tests come back negative, testing frequency will move to weekly.
During an outbreak, the state said, testing of staff and residents is conducted every three to four days.
Testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula
On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital’s Specialty Clinic as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.
In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The testing is only for those traveling, symptomatic, needing testing for medical procedures, or with a known exposure after seven days. Only 20 tests will be offered per day. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.