COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Peninsula cases rising faster than vaccine rates

18.7% positive case increase from last week as CDC and FDA lift J&J pause

COVID-19 cases on the peninsula are increasing at a faster rate than the percentage of people getting vaccinated.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported 91 new COVID-19 cases this week. This is around an 18.7% increase from new cases the peninsula saw the week before — 74, according to state data.

Last week, 39.9% of Alaskans 16 and older had received at least one dose. This week, that number only increased 1.3%, to 41.2%. That percentage narrows further in the peninsula’s senior population: Vaccination rates for those 65 and older only increased by 0.5% this week.

Statewide, Alaska saw 1,116 new positive COVID cases this week. This is compared to the 1,101 the state reported last week, totaling around a 1.3% increase, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. The majority of new cases were reported in people between the ages of 20 and 39.

Additionally, more than one in three eligible Alaska residents — 41.9% — were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday. This is only a 2.8% increase from last Friday, when 39.1% of Alaskans 16 and older were fully inoculated.

Bruce Richards, director of external affairs at Central Peninsula Hospital, said in an interview on Friday that upticks in positive cases are always cause for concern.

Until Friday there had been five COVID-positive patients at CPH, but they finished the week with only three, he said. Richards noted not all COVID-positive patients are in the hospital because of the virus: Many go for other reasons and test positive upon entry.

Additionally, he said CPH was at 111% capacity last week, but hospitalizations have leveled out in the last few days. Richards said any COVID surge could overwhelm the hospital fairly easily.

“It’s kind of hard to see the way it’s going, [we’re] always concerned and watching cautiously,” Richards said. “I think we’re going back to manageable.”

NPR’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker estimates that about 26.9% of the U.S. population is vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data updated on Friday. Researchers predict anywhere from 70% to 85% of people will need to be fully vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the virus. NPR notes that they track vaccines among total populations, which includes children still ineligible for the shot.

NPR also reported on Friday that Alaska finished the week at No. 5 nationwide for its vaccine rollout, coming in at 33.1%, which is a drop from No. 2 at the end of last week. Currently, Alaska trails Maine, Connecticut, New Mexico and Vermont.

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration lifted the pause on the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine after a federal advisory panel recommended that the U.S. resume its use, according to the Washington Post.

This comes after the CDC and the FDA recommended a pause in the Janssen vaccine on April 13, after six cases of severe blood clotting had been determined to be a side effect.

Vaccine appointments

There were 94 vaccination appointments available across central peninsula clinics as of Friday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod 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. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment with a provider that does not use the state’s scheduling system can be found on the provider map by clicking on the icon of the provider through which people would like to schedule an appointment. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

People who would like assistance with scheduling an appointment to be vaccinated can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 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.

The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination.

More than 575,000 individual doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been allocated to Alaska since last December. That number includes allocations for Indian Health Services and to pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccination, to which at least 29,240 pairs of vaccine have been allocated.

Through that program, Alaska’s pharmacy partners are Walmart Inc., Albertsons Companies, Inc. and Walgreens, meaning they receive vaccine allocations in addition to the state’s allocation. Through that program, the Kenai Walmart is able to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to people eligible to receive it. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

COVID-19 testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula

On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.

In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital’s Specialty Clinic as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228. Testing is also available at Homer Public Health Center daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The testing is only for those traveling, symptomatic, needing testing for medical procedures, or with a known exposure after seven days. Only 20 tests will be offered per day. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970. In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.

Information is based on data reported by Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services between April 9 and April 15, and April 16 and April 22.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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