Health officials said during a press briefing that COVID-19 cases might be reaching another plateau in Alaska, as new infections are trending downward nationwide.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Thursday that about 98.46% of new cases in Alaska are caused by the omicron variant — and even some by its new BA.2 form — which has caused the most recent statewide surge.
“In the U.S. we started to see a significant decline in cases,” Zink said Thursday. “Here in Alaska, you can start to see that we’re starting to maybe plateau-ish. We’ll have to kind of see what this next week and a half looks like moving forward.”
The new omicron subvariant, BA.2, or the “stealth” variant, is reportedly not much different than the original form of omicron. Health officials said BA.2 trends still show the subvariant is causing less severe illness, and that approved booster vaccines still offer robust protection.
Jayme Parker, the section chief of the Alaska public health laboratories, confirmed that five BA.2 cases had been identified in the state as of Thursday afternoon.
According to data from the New York Times on Thursday, new COVID cases in the U.S. have been falling swiftly since Jan. 14. Alaska’s cases — although still accounting for the most new infections per capita after Guam — were down 7% on Thursday.
Officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said Thursday that even as cases ebb and flow, Alaskans are going to have to live with the presence of the virus for an undetermined amount of time.
“COVID is going to be here with us for a very long time, if not forever, and it will be probably continuing to change and we’ll have surges and we’ll have variants and we’ll learn new things,” Zink said. “But our tools and our resources in 2022 are definitely different than our tools and resources in 2020.”
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 emergency use for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.
Moderna’s vaccine also got fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those 18 and older this week, and Pfizer’s vaccine got full FDA authorization for people 16 and older last August.
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.
State health officials have said studies indicate that a person with their primary series is expected to be about 35% protected against omicron, but that protection jumps to around 75% with a booster dose.
The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
In Kenai, testing is available at 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 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. In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at email@example.com.