In a week where Alaska saw its 400th death from COVID-19, a flurry of social media posts announcing closures at Homer restaurants and businesses confirmed the worst: COVID-19 cases continue to surge through the Southern Kenai Peninsula. At least seven businesses announced one-day or longer closures because of concerns over COVID-19, including the Homer News. Other restaurants announced going back from in-house dining to curbside pickup or takeout.
“Homer has done so well, and now to have more outbreaks than we had ever before makes it a little nerve wracking, to say the least,” said NOMAR owner Kate Mitchell, one of the businesses affected by COVID-19 concerns.
Closures announced were:
■ Alice’s Champagne Palace on Sunday announced three employees tested positive for COVID-19 and said it would be closed through Aug. 24. Pizza Underground, located at Alice’s, will offer takeout meals only.
■ AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse on Sunday announced one key staff member tested positive and it would be closed until Friday. “We will err on the side of caution and close until everyone can be tested and ensure our team is healthy,” the restaurant wrote on its Facebook page.
■ Fat Olives on Monday said it closed for a day to get its crew tested for COVID-19.
■ Sweetgale Meadworks & Cider House announced on Monday it was closing temporarily because of a positive COVID-19 test result among staff.
■ Duncan House Diner closed for a week, owner Katie Jo Gamble reported in the COVID-safe Kenai Peninsula Facebook page. Everyone tested negative, but some vaccinated crew were identified as close contacts of positive cases. “We still feel the right thing to do is to close and retest again in a week to ensure it’s safe,” she wrote.
■ NOMAR closed on Monday because of a positive test result for one employee, owner Kate Mitchell said in a phone call on Tuesday. Staff got tested and the store reopened on Tuesday. Mitchell said no other employees had been in close contact with the affected employee.
“We had a one-day stand down,” Mitchell said. “That seemed to be the appropriate way to handle things.”
■ After a close contact of an employee at the Homer News tested positive, the paper announced Wednesday it would close the office to the general public until Aug. 27.
To help businesses better understand how to respond to COVID-19 if staff test positive, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will hold a Zoom session from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23.
“I really do sense the need for that extra support in our community,” said Homer Public Health Nurse Mary Darbonne. “… As more businesses are affected, it can be a lot to navigate and be confusing.”
Long lines at a pop-up testing clinic in the Homer Public Library showed the intensity of community concern over testing. Run by Capstone Clinic, the rapid testing continues noon-4 p.m. Friday.
The Ninilchik Tribal Council Mobile Community Health Clinic also offers testing and vaccines from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday in Anchor Point at 33935 Sterling Highway next to the Cheeky Moose laundromat.
The southern Kenai Peninsula continues to see positive COVID-19 cases, with 120 reported on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard for the period of Aug. 10 through Aug. 16. Homer had 92 cases, Anchor Point had 18 and the Kenai Peninsula Borough-South had 10. There also were three nonresident cases tested in Homer.
A data recording lag on the DHSS dashboard has been adjusted, with numbers reported by the state consistent with test results done at South Peninsula Hospital.
Most of the cases come from people gathering indoors in small groups and in close contact, Darbonne said.
Mitchell noted a dilemma for small businesses. With the tight work force, managers can’t risk forcing people to get vaccinated.
“We don’t want to lose people over it,” Mitchell said. “I wish they would do the adult thing.”
Darbonne said Public Health appreciates the effort local businesses are making to keep open while protecting the public.
“We’re here to support our community in the best ways possible,” she said. “I’m thankful for what folks are doing to mitigate COVID. We don’t want our businesses to shut. It’s respectful for them to take into consideration and protect their community as well.”
For the week of Aug. 11-17, the hospital reported 993 test samples collected, with 95 positive — a 10% positivity rate. For that same period, the hospital reported 15 visits to the emergency department, seven hospitalizations, 25 outpatient monoclonal antibody infusions and 83 vaccines administered, according to an email Wednesday from SPH Public Information Officer and Marketing Director Derotha Ferraro.
On last Friday alone there were six hospitalizations, Ferraro said. The hospital has eight negative-pressure rooms for COVID-19 patients with up to two beds in each room, for a total of 16 possible beds. No one has yet had to double up in a room, however, Ferraro wrote. Six rooms were installed after the start of the pandemic. It also has a negative pressure room in the emergency department for incoming COVID-19 patients. The hospital has two intensive-care unit rooms and seven ventilators on-site. None of the COVID-19 patients have been on ventilators.