The state Department of Health and Social Services reported 21 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, pushing the total to 1,081 Alaska resident deaths since the pandemic began.
One of the new deaths, which are reported by the state each Wednesday, was a Kenai Peninsula man in his 80s. The newly reported deaths come during another COVID wave — albeit trending downward — driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. About 98.46% of new cases in Alaska have been caused by the omicron strain recently, and even some by its new BA.2 form.
The new omicron subvariant, BA.2, or the “stealth” variant, is reportedly not much different from the original form of omicron. Health officials said recently that BA.2 trends still show the subvariant is causing less severe illness, and that approved COVID 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 last Thursday. 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.
There were a total of 123 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Wednesday, with six of those patients on ventilators. A week prior on Feb. 2, there were 197 COVID hospitalizations and five patients intubated.
The state reported a two-day combined total of 2,264 new cases sequenced on Monday and Tuesday. The average number of daily cases over the past week as of Wednesday was 1,234.9 per 100,000 people, which surpasses the threshold for high risk over 12 times. This seven-day average figure estimates a daily case count proportionate to population by averaging the actual number of reported cases each day over the previous week.
New cases reported Wednesday included 50 in Soldotna, 42 in Kenai, 23 in Homer, 21 in Seward, 13 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, nine in Sterling, seven in Nikiski, and four each in Anchor Point, Fritz Creek and the Kenai Peninsula Borough South. 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.
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 Food and Drug Administration 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, and are available to people without health insurance. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.