COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Eastern peninsula COVID cases decline

COVID cases on the eastern peninsula have been rapidly declining since late September.

The eastern Kenai Peninsula has reported minimal COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks as virus infections statewide have been tapering off since mid-October, but health care providers are still encouraging patients to get vaccinated against COVID, especially as the omicron variant has now made its way to the state.

Brent Ursel, physician’s assistant at Glacier Family Medicine Clinic in Seward, said Tuesday that especially with the holidays around the corner he encourages the community to remain diligent in its COVID mitigation efforts.

“I would hope people wouldn’t be complacent,” he said.

The clinic doesn’t carry vaccines due to storage limitation issues, but Ursel said he refers people to both Safeway and the local community health center.

COVID cases on the eastern peninsula have been rapidly declining since late September.

On Monday, the cumulative seven-day rolling average was 13.98 new cases per 100,000 people. That’s substantially lower than the statewide average on Monday, which was 175.3 new cases per 100,000 people, according to data reported by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Ursel said the COVID cases he’s seen at Glacier Family Medicine have “really declined quite a bit.”

As far as preparing for the omicron variant, he said the practice is continuing to make health decisions based on new information, but that there are still a lot of unknowns about the strain right now.

Craig Ambrosiani, the executive director of the Seward Community Health Center, said the staff isn’t seeing a lot of COVID there either, but that everyone is adhering to the same guidance.

He said employees are encouraging people to mask, keep their distance, and “stay in your bubbles as much as you can.”

Seward reported two new COVID cases on Wednesday. There were also seven reported in Homer, four in both Kenai and Soldotna and two in Anchor Point, according to state data.

Officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said during a public science forum on Wednesday that 803 COVID cases have been reported among Seward residents since the pandemic began.

Katie Marquette, the community relations manager at Providence Alaska Medical Center, confirmed via email on Wednesday that Providence Seward only has six total beds, four of which are equipped for COVID patients. There are also only three ventilators on-site.

In the event that a Seward resident needs a higher level of care or space, Marquette said patients would have to be transferred elsewhere.

“Patients in need of ICU-level care, surgery or other critical care services would be transferred to another facility like Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage,” she said in an email. “(Providence Anchorage) provides the highest-level acuity care in the state. Any high-acuity COVID-19 patients would be transferred out of Seward.”

Health officials continue to encourage all Alaskans to get vaccinated against COVID.

Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, said during the forum Wednesday that preliminary studies suggest that the vaccines still provide protection against the omicron variant, albeit less than other strains.

“Some of the early studies that have come out on this front indicate that vaccine effectiveness does seem to be lower with omicron,” McLaughlin said.

The data do show, however, that people with boosters are better protected against serious illness, and that people with their primary series are protected against hospitalization and death.

“(We’re) really emphasizing the importance of getting the booster dose if you’re eligible,” McLaughlin said.

As of Wednesday, 56.8% of Alaskans 5 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID. On the Kenai Peninsula that number dips down to 47.2%, but according to state data Seward has a higher vaccination rate than the peninsula as a whole.

Ursel said it remains to be seen how the omicron variant will affect Seward.

“We’re just following the trends like everybody else,” he said.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many different 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 has extended its hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 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 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. The Seward Community Health Center at 417 First Avenue is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays only. Bring a face covering and photo ID.

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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