COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Officials: Get vaccinated before the holidays

The state also encourages all eligible adults to get a booster shot to increase protection for the holiday season.

The state Department of Health and Social Services released its guidance for gathering safely this holiday season, which includes getting vaccinated against COVID-19, testing and preparing ahead of time for potential travel restrictions.

“Fortunately, celebrating this year is inherently safer because of the COVID-19 vaccine,” the guidance states. “Even if some people in your family or friends’ group are not vaccinated, the vaccine generally helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and is especially helpful at preventing severe illness, including hospitalization and death.”

COVID cases and hospitalizations have been trending downward statewide, but Alaska remained at a high COVID transmission alert level Tuesday.

The DHSS reported 152 new COVID cases, with an estimated rolling average of 319.1 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people in the span of one week.

Statewide there were 108 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Tuesday, with 14 patients on ventilators. There were two more COVID deaths announced Tuesday, pushing the total to 834 since the pandemic began.

The DHSS holiday guidance states that although protection against COVID begins shortly after the first dose of a primary series, people aren’t considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after one shot of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine or a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Pfizer is approved for anyone 5 years of age and older, while J&J and Moderna are authorized for anyone 18 and up.

The state also encourages all eligible adults to get a booster shot to increase protection for the holiday season. Anyone 18 and older who is two months out from a J&J vaccine or six months out from their Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is eligible for a booster shot.

Many immunocompromised individuals are also eligible for another COVID vaccine dose.

As of Tuesday, 55% of Alaskans 5 and older were fully vaccinated, and another 61% had received at least one dose. The Kenai Peninsula Borough lagged with 46% of people 5 and older fully vaccinated and 50% with at least one shot as of Tuesday.

In addition to getting vaccinated, the DHSS recommends wearing a mask around anyone particularly susceptible to the virus, as well as getting tested before gathering. If someone is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed, they are strongly encouraged to stay home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that only fully vaccinated people travel this holiday season, and that everyone avoid larger gatherings before taking a trip. The DHSS guidelines state that unvaccinated people should get tested before travel, upon arrival of the destination and after returning home again.

Getting a COVID 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. 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 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 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 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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