This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)

Virus death toll soars

The state reported 66 more COVID deaths Tuesday, some recent and some as far back as April.

The state announced 66 more COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, some recent and some dating back as early as April.

The deaths included seven Kenai Peninsula residents — five from the central peninsula, one from Homer and one from Seward. The youngest was a woman in her 30s.

Half of the new number of COVID deaths were Wasilla and Anchorage residents, totalling 33 out of the 66 collective fatalities.

Tuesday’s new COVID deaths have contributed to the 659 total in the state and over 728,000 nationwide.

The state also announced 2,842 positive COVID cases from the holiday weekend. Alaska remained at a high alert level Tuesday — with an estimated seven-day rolling average of 811.1 cases per 100,000 people across the state.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. The state has surpassed that metric more than eight times over.

Tuesday’s new case count included 87 cases in both Kenai and Soldotna, 23 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, 22 in Homer, 16 in Sterling, eight in Nikiski, seven in Anchor Point, six in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South and two in Seward.

Statewide there were 224 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Tuesday, with 28 of them on ventilators.

At Central Peninsula Hospital there were 18 COVID patients on Tuesday morning — 15 unvaccinated — with five in the intensive care unit and four on ventilators. The hospital as a whole was operating at 116% capacity.

Bruce Richards, the external affairs director at CPH, confirmed Tuesday that August, September and October have been the deadliest of the pandemic for the hospital thus far.

Two COVID patients died at CPH over the weekend, Richards said Tuesday, the sixth and seventh to fall to the virus just this month.

Health officials widely agree that choosing to get vaccinated against COVID is the single best way to avoid serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration for anyone 16 and older in August. Pfizer is still available via emergency use authorization in accordance to FDA guidelines for kids 12 to 15 years old.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots are FDA approved for emergency use for anyone 18 and older.

The FDA also approved a third dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in immunocompromised people in August.

Additionally, in September the FDA approved a booster dose for the Pfizer shot. They are available for anyone 65 years or older, anyone 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, anyone 18 and older with underlying health conditions and anyone 18 and older working in high-risk settings.

Primary care providers can determine eligibility for an initial vaccine series, as well as immunocompromised third shots and booster doses.

Across the state, 59.5% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Another 64.3% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind many other regions.

As of Tuesday, 49.7% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 53.5% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region on Tuesday, at 42.6%.

Since some Alaskans have received booster doses, the DHSS issued a disclaimer that vaccine rate data may be an overestimation.

Getting a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

As an incentive to get the shots, the DHSS and Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of $49,000. To find out the eligibility requirements or to enter into the giveaway sweepstakes, visit giveakashot.com. The lottery lasts through Oct. 30.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department 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 Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 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. Starting Sept. 14, the Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-through testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

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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