Central Peninsula Hospital was at 86% total capacity on Friday morning, as the state Department of Health and Social Services reported 3,640 new COVID-19 cases from Wednesday and Thursday.
Bruce Richards, the external affairs director at CPH, said while health care staff are optimistic the omicron variant might not cause as many hospitalizations as the delta strain, its transmissibility is concerning.
“Maybe we will have fewer hospitalizations, but we may have a lot fewer staff here because they’re out on quarantine or in isolation, so that’s the other downside,” Richards said.
He said as of Friday, CPH had 12 COVID-positive staff members and 22 people at home quarantining. Richards said fewer than five staff members were out because of COVID only four or five days prior.
“It doubled every day for a couple of days, so that just kind of shows you how transmissible this is,” Richards said.
Richards also confirmed Friday that the hospital’s three-day COVID positivity rate is at about 9%.
He said on Friday that although it’s too early to tell, health care staff at CPH are optimistic that the omicron variant won’t push hospital capacity as far as the delta variant did, or require people to be hospitalized as long, on average, as delta did.
“While there might be a lot of infections, there may not be a similar amount of hospitalizations to what we had with delta, so we’re hopeful of that,” Richards said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a press briefing Thursday that early studies are showing that the omicron variant replicates more commonly in the upper airway than the lower airway, which potentially causes less serious illness and allows people to maintain their senses of taste and smell.
The new cases reported on Friday are more than triple the number of new cases reported in the two-day range of Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 last week — 996. According to state data, cases are up 151% from the first week of the year to the last week of 2021.
Of the new 3,640 cases reported Wednesday and Thursday, 27 were in Soldotna, 21 were in Homer, 13 were in Kenai, eight each were in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, Seward and Sterling, five were in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, three were in Anchor Point, and two were in Nikiski.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said during Thursday’s briefing that while the state will continue to report positive COVID cases, hospitalization and death curves will be a more accurate indicator of omicron’s impact since cases go unreported.
“The case data are always an under representation of the true burden of disease,” McLaughlin said. “Even when we were doing a lot of testing and capturing a high proportion of cases, we were still missing a lot of cases because people didn’t go in to get tested or they had asymptomatic infection.”
Zink said the increasing availability of at-home test kits could also contribute to the discrepancy.
As of Friday, there were a total of 74 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, with six of those patients on ventilators.
The state also reported one new death — a Hoonah-Angoon and Yakutat man in his 70s — bringing the total to 948 COVID cases statewide since the pandemic began.
Health officials agree getting vaccinated against COVID will help slow the spread and protect people from severe illness, hospitalization and death.
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.
In addition to a primary series — two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine — experts are strongly encouraging booster shots to protect against omicron.
Zink on Thursday said current studies indicate a person with their primary series is expected to be about 35% protected against omicron. With a booster dose, Zink said protection jumps to about 75% against omicron.
The Food and Drug Administration and CDC are recommending Pfizer boosters for anyone 12 and older at least five months after the primary series. Additionally, Moderna boosters are recommended for anyone 18 and older at least six months after a primary series.
Janssen boosters are approved for anyone 18 and older at least two months after initial vaccination, although the FDA announced it was revising its fact sheet for the J&J shot to include more data on the risks of blood clotting associated with the vaccine.
Getting a 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 is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
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 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.
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. At-home test kits are also available for free at Kenai Public Health.
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.
Due to an increased need for COVID testing, the Seward Community Health Center and Providence Medical Center are hosting drive-thru testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. through at least Jan. 18. Bring a face mask and a photo ID to get tested.