A sign instructing patients and visitors on the current screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

A sign instructing patients and visitors on the current screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

Hospital ‘extremely busy’ as COVID patients surge

There were 14 COVID patients admitted as of Tuesday afternoon.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Central Peninsula Hospital is approaching levels not seen since the peak of the pandemic last year and the pace isn’t slowing down, Bruce Richards, the external affairs director of the hospital, said.

Richards said that of the 49 hospital beds available at CPH, 14 were being used by COVID patients as of Tuesday afternoon, with five of them in the intensive care unit and three people intubated on ventilators.

The record at CPH for the most inpatients in a single day was 16, last winter.

“The ICU is extremely busy,” he said. “It takes a lot of work to maintain people on ventilators.”

This comes as the state reported five new COVID deaths on Tuesday. They were four female residents in Anchorage — two in their 70s, one in her 60s and one in her 20s — and one Sitka woman in her 40s.

COVID patients at CPH were mostly in their 50s through 80s, but one inpatient was in their 90s and another in their 20s.

Richards said there haven’t been any pediatric COVID inpatient hospitalizations as of now, but that there have been multiple children to test positive for the virus at CPH.

“We’ve seen them in the (emergency department),” Richards said. “I’ve seen one as young as 2.”

Additionally, of the 45 COVID tests administered on Monday — some because people were symptomatic and some for other reasons — 14 came back positive. That, Richards said, contributes to a three-day rolling average positivity rate of about 18.2%.

With the inundation of COVID on top of normal summer hospital activity, Richards said CPH could be facing employee burnout.

“The acuity level is much higher,” he said of this wave’s COVID patients. “We’ve never had this many on vents before.”

That means health care professionals at CPH have to spend much more time and energy on COVID patients.

“They’re doing incredible work,” Richards said.

If staffing burnout increases and cases keep spiking, however, it won’t be a good situation, he said.

In addition, between 38% and 39% of CPH staff is still unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated against the virus.

When it comes to hospital employees and resources, Richards said “there’s really no backup.”

According to a report from the state Department of Health and Social Services last Thursday, there had been a total of 577 delta variant cases detected statewide. The clinical update stated that delta accounts “for almost all newly detected cases.”

Richards said the patients seem different than they did during last November’s spike, sicker even, with more complaints of shortness of breath.

“That is different this time around,” he said about patients’ COVID symptoms.

Statewide, the DHSS announced another 459 COVID cases on Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, the state has seen more than 77,000 positive cases, over 1,800 hospitalizations and 400 deaths.

The Kenai Peninsula reported 73 resident cases on Tuesday and one nonresident case.

Through Tuesday, a total of 53.4% of Alaska residents 12 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 45.4% of those eligible had received their full vaccine series.

“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, reconsider,” Richards urged on Tuesday. “Look at what’s happening here at our local hospital.”

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Vaccines are available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270, by walk-in every week at the Soldotna Wednesday Market, and for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Many different businesses on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart and Walgreens, offer vaccines.

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 Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 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 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.

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, Capstone Clinic and Central Peninsula Urgent Care.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Central Peninsula Hospital, 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.

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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