The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday announced 20 new COVID-related fatalities — bringing the statewide death toll to 329.
Nineteen of the deaths were reported after review of death certificates from as early as December 2020.
DHSS reported five new COVID-related hospitalizations, bringing the statewide total to 39.
The state also reported 194 new COVID cases, including 14 on the peninsula.
Affected communities were Soldotna with eight, Kenai with three, Seward with two and the Kenai Peninsula Borough North with one. The state remains at high-alert level, with an average daily case rate over a 14-day period of 22.5 cases per 100,000.
Another 54 new cases were reported in Anchorage, 54 in Wasilla, 20 in Palmer, 12 in Fairbanks, nine in Eagle River, four in both Chugiak and North Pole, two each in Big Lake, the Kusilvak Census Area and Willow, and one each in Chevak, Delta Junction, Dillingham, Girdwood, Sitka, Sutton-Alpine, Valdez and Wrangell.
Nine new nonresident cases were also identified on Thursday.
DHSS estimates over 225,000 people in Alaska — 30.1% of the population across all ages — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, over 274,000 people — 36.4% —have received at least one dose.
That’s compared to an estimated 69.9% of Alaskans 65 and older who are fully vaccinated and 75% who have received at least one dose.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 27.5% of Alaskans of all age groups are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 31.8% have received at least one dose. Over half of peninsula seniors — 60.8% — are fully vaccinated, according to DHSS data on Thursday.
State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said in a COVID press briefing today that he’s heard estimates of the herd immunity mark ranging somewhere around 70% to 80% of the population.
The CDC and FDA this week recommended a pause in the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine after six severe cases of blood clotting were detected in different women post-inoculation.
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said in a COVID-briefing Thursday that people who have already received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine are still likely to be protected by the COVID virus.
“If it’s been at least three weeks out, any sort of risk or complication from this very rare side effect is very low at this time,” Zink said. She emphasized if it’s been within three weeks it’s important to monitor symptoms and seek medical attention if necessary.
“We’re trying to make sure we keep those risks in perspective,” she said.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are not on a recommended pause.
Zink also said Pfizer has submitted its vaccine’s clinical trial data to the FDA and is awaiting emergency use authorization approval for kids 12 years and older to be eligible for the shot, which may happen as early as May.
During the press briefing, Doctor Coleman Cutchins emphasized the drugs given emergency use authorization, as the current COVID-19 vaccines have been, complete the same safety checks as any fully approved drug that makes it to market, and is no longer considered investigational.
Zink said the state does not plan to mandate vaccinations as a condition of employment.
“That is up to employees and employers,” she said. “There is no intention from the state to mandate vaccines. However, different companies have the ability and the right to require that if they choose to do so.”
State officials still recommend that everyone eligible get vaccinated as quickly as possible. They say it’s the single most effective way of stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
“We want to make sure we’re getting transparent, real-time data and information out to Alaskans,” Zink said. “As we all look forward to summer and the sun, we are looking forward to getting as many people vaccinated as possible.”
There were 16 COVID-19 vaccination appointments available across multiple central peninsula clinics as of Wednesday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod 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. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.
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.
The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination.
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. Testing is also available at Homer Public Health Center daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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 Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.