COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in Alaska as the state reports a large influx of new infections.

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday, with five of those patients on ventilators, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services. A week prior, on Jan. 7, there were 74 COVID hospitalizations with six patients on ventilators.

The DHSS on Friday reported 5,508 new COVID cases sequenced from Wednesday and Thursday. The new cases reported are an increase from last week as well, when the state reported 3,640 new infections for that two-day period.

New cases reported Friday included 63 in Soldotna, 44 in Homer, 30 in Kenai, 16 in Seward, nine in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, eight in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, seven in Sterling, five in Anchor Point, and one in both Fritz Creek and Nikiski.

The omicron variant has been causing an overwhelming majority of new infections. Because many omicron cases have reportedly been less symptomatic, and because of the increasing availability of at-home COVID test kits, state officials with the DHSS are encouraging people to use hospitalizations and death metrics to determine the severity of the state’s COVID spread.

Health experts widely 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 or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine — experts are strongly encouraging booster shots to protect against omicron.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a recent press briefing that 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%.

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 Janssen shot to include more data on the risks of blood clotting associated with the vaccine.

According to the DHSS Facebook page, the state is recommending people with a primary Janssen vaccine to get either a Pfizer or Moderna booster for more robust protection.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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