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Covid-19 Brief with Kathleen Gustafson

South Peninsula Hospital

The weekly Covid-19 Brief with Kathleen Gustafson, with guests Jenny Carrol of the City of Homer, Derotha Ferraro of South Peninsula Hospital, Mark Kirko of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, and Lorne Carroll of the Homer Public Health Clinic.


Kathleen Gustafson KBBI

I'm Kathleen Gustafson. This is the COVID 19 Brief for every Thursday morning at 9 if you have questions you can call 235-7721 or you can email your questions to  
I want to start with Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. Jenny what's on your list today? I have some questions about Governor Dunleavy’s plan to reopen some businesses and how the City might be responding to that.

Jenny Carroll, City of Homer:
Everyone else has been following Governor Dunleavy’s press conferences very closely and last night they unveiled what's called Mandate 16 which is opening Alaska's economy back up, rolling it out in phases.

He's just introduced phase one which will go into effect on Friday and that pretty much involves starting to slowly open up businesses under certain guidelines so that we can try to be able to keep COVID cases in check while resuming economic activity in Alaska which is also very important to families in our house as well. Basically, you know, Governor Dunleavy says they've been able to prove that they can keep COVID 19 in check by doing social distancing, washing our hands, wearing face masks and that the state will be watching the case count very closely while they start opening up businesses.

KBBI: And what about City offices, will they open?

Currently we are still operating under our COOP, our continuity of operations plan. So at this point we are going to move slowly and safely as plans come in under the Governor's mandate. I'd like to give out some information to businesses that may be thinking that they would like to open and what does it mean to open under the new mandate? There are requirements on opening under with social distancing, hygiene training for staff and posting a plan of how you're going to mitigate COVID 19 spread.

So I would like to run through that.
The first mandate is to public facing businesses, generally retail versus restaurants, personal care services and non-public facing businesses, which would be like if you're an engineering group or you provide technical support or something like that. Do you provide services to people in their homes there, some kind of repair service or installation and the state has on their website

They have all the mandates there and what is required for businesses to be able to open.
And we will be looking at that at the City as well because we're a business as well and as we look at those and can ensure that we have those practices in place. Actually we'll be looking over those plans to see how the City can safely resume operations as usual. This is Governor Dunleavy unveiling this and a five phase process and looking at it every two weeks so it's going to be a prolonged and slow opening. I would not expect all the City offices and recreation and whatnot to just open up overnight. We're going to be measured and careful for everyone's health.

KBBI: Okay. Thanks for that. I have a question that got called in but they didn't want to go to air. Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Public Health Department, the question is: are people who are asymptomatic still shedding the virus and do they test positive? In the general test that we're giving the people who don't show symptoms but are carrying do they test positive?

Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll
The easy answer there, the honest answer is we don't quite know the answer to that. There is some evidence that shows that some folks can be asymptomatic and could be shedding the virus while they're asymptomatic and in regards to tests and testing they may or may not test positive. Testing has a lot of limitations. One of which is that testing only really gives a suggestion of the presence or absence of COVID within that specimen and for that moment.

KBBI: That's right because as soon as you touch your face or walk out or touch a door knob or whatever you're back in the pool.

You should be talking for me Kathleen, cause that's exactly right. So moving forward, testing doesn't tell you about the future. That it's not a useful tool moving forward like for working with others or holding back on community mitigation measures. So in other words we've got to keep going with community mitigation measures.

KBBI: And what are some of those?

Lorne: Well although these are those things like continuing to socially distance and as we look at a thoughtful and layered approach to resuming economic activity. Talking about the new mandates and reading through them a few times and then figuring out how you can most safely re-approach businesses as a client or a business owner.

KBBI: While maintaining social distancing and other things like a routine. And I am washing hands frequently. So what are the benefits of the why of testing on a wider scale?

Yeah there's a lot of a lot of benefits there. In regards to a population lens it gives us an idea of our population health status. So if we look at statewide or Kenai Peninsula Borough or even Homer it gives us a suggestive idea of the load of COVID in our community right now.

So for example, as of noon yesterday we're at 335 total cases Alaska wide. So these are the cases that we know of based on testing. And then down here in Homer we're holding steady at two cases total of COVID and two of which have recovered. And those geographical names are in relation to the residents, permanent residents, and it doesn't indicate where the person might've been infected or where they were when they got diagnosed.

KBBI: Because one of those people that tested positive here wasn't here, wasn’t in Homer while they were infected.

Lorne: Yeah that's correct. And the single case that we had an Anchor Point was not in Alaska.

KBBI: Okay. And nurse Lorne I'm going to come back to you but I want to get to Chief Kirko.
Chief how is all this going to affect emergency services?

Chief Kirko, Homer Volunteer Fire Department
Well that remains, I think, to be seen, you know, right now we are holding our own just fine. We are still in the mindset of, at least I am in the mindset of, I want to protect all my volunteers so we're probably not going to change our current structure of how we're responding to things.

I'm going to try to do more with less as far as trying to get more people on a scene. So we're going to stick with what we're doing right now and we'll just see what the numbers look like in a few weeks. We've talked about it several times and our responder safety is going to be our priority still, as is the safety of the community.

So that's the big thing for us and when we start looking at things opening up around our area through either the State's mandates or the City's policy to maybe start changing back to what we do, once called normal, we're going to just kind of review those on a daily basis and on a weekly basis and make decisions based on what the data provides us. My hope and goal is that we can do this in a manner that is safe for everybody, not thinking that we're going to just open the doors immediately and then wait to see what happens.

KBBI: And I'm supposing that some things, like when you talk about a return to normal, some of your procedures and protocols will probably change forever after this.

Chief Kirko: Oh absolutely.
I mean this is again, this is an unprecedented event. None of us have worked through one of these before so we're learning a lot as we go and I will stay that, you know, I've heard a lot of comments recently that, why did we go to this extreme of what we've done? There's no cases here in Homer really to speak of other than the one local one but I think the reason that we did what we did and took the precautions that we took was to prevent all of that from coming, you know, getting out of control like it had in some other United States communities and even some parts of Alaska.

So I feel like we put up a good defense but we don't want to just take that defense all the way down and allow for the infection to, you know, start to come into Homer at a greater rate.

KBBI: I expect that losing our air service at the airport didn't hurt us.

Chief Kirko: Certainly not, probably, in the way of transmission
. But there's a lot of other things that is being felt in a bad way, not having that air service here but people are adjusting and I think that's what our future looks like. Making some adjustments that we didn't really ever think we would.

Okay. The number to call is 235-7721 if you have a question for Chief Kirko, Nurse Carroll, Jenny Carroll from the City or Derotha from South Peninsula Hospital and also you can email a question if you don't feel like hanging on the phone to or call 235-7721.

Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. I know you've been waiting on numbers. Did you get them?

Derotha Ferraro, South Peninsula Hospital
I did get them. Thank you. Good morning Kathleen. So, as of last night, this morning’s numbers: 

We have submitted 205 swabs for testing, of those 183 are negative, one, it was positive, the one from several weeks ago and 21 are pending.

And I'd like to talk a little bit about the pending. So we have, as of today, we are changing our strategy for commercial testing. So we send some of our swabs to the State labs and we send some to commercial labs, Quest, out of state. And that is based on what the state prioritizes that they will use the state labs to test for. So we have established a relationship with ANMC and we will be sending our swabs, all swabs to Anchorage. Now some will go to the state lab and some will go to ANMC, Alaska Native Medical Center for processing. This we expect will increase the turnaround time for those ones that are at the commercial lab.

So hopefully by the time we get caught up, the Quest ones which should be in the next two days or so, that by next week all of our processing should be within two days, three at the absolute longest. So that's great news.

Also on the reopening, so I'd like to think of this as still prevention strategy right? I heard the Chief said we went into these extreme measures to prevent the spread. We're still in prevent the spread. It's just that instead of being at a level 10 of prevention now we're going to shift to maybe a 9 or an 8 level so this is still in prevention mode, it's not open up. It's not go back. It's still prevention. So the hospital is, we're kind of slowly resuming services. I call it a crawl. The most important part of all of this is making sure the provider, whether it's the hospital or a local restaurant, making sure the service provider has the systems in place to prevent the spread.

So like at the hospital you'll now see universal masking. So if you come for interaction with a provider, you will have to have a mask on. You will see all employees with masks on no matter if they're doing paperwork or if they're cleaning the floor or whatever they're doing. So that's an example of having systems in place: appropriate waiting areas, aggressive cleaning protocols.


So again it doesn't matter if you're the hospital or if you're the convenience store or whatever. We all have to have the systems in place to ratchet back to a level 7 or 8 as opposed to going back to the way we used to do things. Kind of like remember we all went into before HIPAA or post 911 and so it's kind of like before COVID, you got to go to the doctor and just walk in and be seen, well now he gets screened. Now you wear a mask, it's just the new systems, the new protocols.

KBBI: Derotha I want to interrupt you for a minute because Eddie is on the line with a question.
Go ahead Eddie.

Eddie: Okay good morning. Please help me with the situation timeline because I'm aware that it changes and I may have my information outdated. There was a period in time where in terms of getting tested there was a point that if you had a test requirement or interest you had to go to your provider to then get sent on the line to get tested and if you did not have a local medical provider we were told to go to the Seldovia Village Tribal Health Center. Is that correct? Then I'll follow up with what the point I'm getting to it so far.

Derotha, South Peninsula Hospital:
That is not correct going forward.

Eddie: Okay. So then if you could enlighten us on that, that would be great because I know of some people who are not in the best of economic straights and don't have a provider. I've been helping them indirectly and somewhat directly with getting groceries and such and they're a little embarrassed about coming out to see about getting a test and so on. And I know that SVT has been indicated in the past but now that's changed. If you could give us an update that would be lovely.

KBBI: Thanks Eddie. Okay. Derotha can you take that?

Derotha: I will take it on behalf of the testing site.
So at our testing site at South Peninsula Hospital we now have lessened the requirements to get tested.

So there's three ways to do it. You can call your provider and they will send you. You can call the hospital triage nurse at 235-0235 and they will go over your symptoms and they will determine, or you can just drive up to the hospital.

But it doesn't matter which way you do it through your provider, through the ER triage nurse or coming on your own.The consistent denominator is that you have symptoms. We are not testing people who do not have symptoms so it doesn't matter which of the three routes should go you need to have symptoms and you will be screened for the symptoms prior to the testing.

If you choose to come on your own you just drive to the hospital. There's phone numbers posted as you arrive to the parking lot and you stay in your car and you call that phone number and the nurse will swab or we'll meet you at the tent but you do have to call, you don't just come in the hospital, obviously, if you're having symptoms.

So it doesn't mean that those other messages were wrong. We were trying our hardest to get people connected to health care beyond the moment of testing because we all said the test is a point in time and it's valuable no matter what you're dealing with illness that you're connected to a healthcare provider. So really those messages were not wrong, we were trying to connect people but we don't want that to limit testing.

KBBI: And Lorne do you have anything to add to that?

 Derotha the only thing that I have to add is health status or how for an individual it's on a spectrum. So even though that COVID is here today we're going to make it through it but there will still be SVT health and wellness and all other medical homes will still be there to provide services is the thing.

One of the guidelines there is really for everyone it's a good practice to aim to have at least one annual physical and then consider a flu shot within the scope of that physical and the thing that we see about annual physical examinations is it's oftentimes that something comes out of there like a referral or diagnosis that's an opportunity for early intervention and in order to improve the health of that individual and family so that they can maximize their potential.

KBBI: Okay thanks. And Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is on the line. What's the news from the school district Pegge?

Pegge Erkeneff, KPBSD
Good morning. And it's a good morning today. We have been still just everybody's hopping and staying focused. We've got parents that are taking the free webinars that are happening on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays. We'll have a new schedule out Friday afternoon and I'm going to do an email to all families and I'll be posting that on our social sites as well of just all the happenings this week along with that a big focus right now is around high schools planning graduations for the class of 2020 and we anticipate with fingers crossed, we've been waiting all week that we'll have guidelines for graduations coming from the State.

Commissioner Johnson who's the Commissioner of the Department of Education has been working with Dr. Zink and Commissioner Crum and working to do statewide guidelines for graduation that we’ll stay in alignment with what mandates are out by the State, so lots of ideas happening at the meeting with all the principals to hear what all the different schools are planning for graduations.

We know everybody wants a traditional graduation. They will look different and we have to abide by whatever those State mandates are. But I know our schools are getting really creative with that so we'll be letting everybody know and have more information I would guess within the next week and a half all the principals are sharing what their plans are right now, I'm putting those in place by May 1st.

KBBI: Well I was wondering about how many kids are you feeding every day?

Pegge: We are still feeding over 3000, well we were over 1700 kids but that's two meals a day for them. So I think the last count I saw was a couple of days ago and it was over 3400 meals on a daily basis to children.

Some sad news about that, the lunch program will end on May 19th when school ends for this so it won't continue through the summer. At this time, we don't have the staff capabilities to do that. So those lunches and breakfast daily deliveries will be ending in mid-May when school ends.

KBBI: Okay and do you have anything else on your list from the school district to let people know?

Pegge: I have a whole list but nothing major. The big thing is just to assure families that we are working with graduations and getting as creative as we can and we really appreciate all the support from the communities.

KBBI: And thank you. I have some questions that have come from email. One of them says will Homer be testing sewage plants for COVID 19? Art says he heard that it's possible to gauge community level contagion by doing that. What do you think Jenny?

Jenny: Well I just learned from our public works director the other day that the City is working with, I'm trying to remember if it's MIT, maybe Chief Kirko could confirm that for me. But we have started testing for that as part of a nationwide study and since Homer has been relatively COVID case free that we might provide a great baseline for a study to see how that correlates with caseload in communities and predictive measures.

So yes the City is doing that. I'm part of a research project so we are starting to get that going.

KBBI: Okay. And I have another question that was emailed in and I'm not sure who this is for so anybody who's got good information, step right up. It says for people who live in isolation what happens to their homes and pets if they get sick and have to be hospitalized? Anybody? What happens to their homes and pets if they have to be hospitalized?

Jenny: I would direct people to the COVID 19 page to local resources and help, and I would reach out to the Salvation Army I love Homer fund. And the I love fund. I would reach out on the Salvation Army's rent utility assistance line (310) 803-0588.

KBBI: What do you have to say? Derotha.

Derotha: Well if a person is hospitalized we have a social work team that will make sure that the right volunteers or right resources are called in to assist.

KBBI: That’s right. Of course you have social workers at the hospital.

Lorne: Yeah. I'll chime in too. You know it took me a minute to process that because our local public health system is a complex web of services in relationships that are aimed at meeting the needs of individuals.

So let me attempt to unpack part of it is if and when there is an individual that's been hospitalized like Derotha said there are services that wrap around the individual and family to assure that we're all in line working towards the same outcome is to get that person back into the community in healthy as soon as possible when those services aren't able to meet the needs of the individual or family. And we oftentimes talk about that in terms of case management.

Oftentimes the hospital will reach out to public health nurses and or other partners to brainstorm solutions to meet the unique needs of individuals so if there was a person that might have COVID or does have COVID and needs to be hospitalized because of the severity, we would be happy to work with, to case manage those needs and come up with a creative solution.

KBBI: Okay. Thanks for that. So I want to check in one last time with everybody.
Jenny Carroll from the City, is there anything on your list today or of information to get out that we haven't touched on?

Jenny: Yeah I'd like to swing back around and follow up with Derotha’s string.
You know we're still in preventative strategy and as local businesses start to read through the mandates I'd like to give them some resources so that they can have the plans and the products in place that they need to be able to reopen on a limited basis and then again going forward.

So some of the requirements include employees and patrons wearing face coverings and the City has a fairly robust program going through volunteer efforts and I would like to direct people who need to get ahold of face coverings for their employees who are public facing, we have a program where we have Skiff Chicks are the delivery point of all these lovely volunteer made face masks and the hospital sanitizes them and there is a prioritization of how those get distributed.

So first we're going to be giving those out to our frontline medical care workers who need those but there are others in stocks and if you want to get information about getting best you can call Skiff Chicks, it's best to call in the afternoon, say after lunch and their number is 226-2170 or you could call Michelle, her cell phone and her number is 399-3709.

They will work with people to the best of their ability to equitably distribute masks, the handmade face coverings. The other item that businesses are required to have to be able to safely clean their premises are cleaning products and to have hand sanitizer.

And I'd like to give out a shout to Frontier CBD who works out of the old Wild Berry Products building on Pioneer Avenue. They've been distributing, making and getting hand sanitizer out to the community. And one of the owners is Sean McDonough and he said that if you're a business and you're in need of cleaning supplies you can reach out to him directly at 299-1829. And they're currently working to get some of their donated products at easy pickup locations.

So the community is stepping up to try to help businesses be able to open on a really safe basis. And there's, I'm sorry if I'm going over a little bit, but with all this new information one of the other things that the State is asking for business to do is to post their protective plan on their business so that the public can see what it is.

And I'm hoping the State comes out with some more specific guidelines for these businesses for their plans but I would direct people to places if they have questions. And one is the state website 

If you go there you can hit the unified command button up top and then you'll see a red button that says protective plans. And there are some instructions there that were written for essential service businesses but you can kind of look through that and get an idea of what kinds of things you might want to cover in your plan to be able to open up and go forward.

If you read that alongside the Mandate 16, the other places if you have specific questions about your business specifically or some business in town that you wish could open and what would it take? If I could just go get my hair done at my favorite hairdresser?

There's an email that the state has set up and it's called covid questions . So you can email those questions directly there because the state is the one who will have the answers for you, real specific answers. So what I'd like to just finish up my piece with today and thank everybody for continuing their preventative measures because it's the reason that we're here is that everyone has been really very diligent at trying to keep our curve flat.

KBBI: Okay thanks, Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. Chief Kirko. Is there anything else on your list today?

Chief Kirko:
No. Pretty much the same message Jenny had, just thank you Homer for really watching out for each other and taking this situation with all the seriousness that it deserves and doing a great job.And that's why we're all here today being as healthy as possible.

KBBI: And I so appreciate you calling in. Thanks Chief Kirko, what about Pegge Erkeneff from the school district?

Pegge: Just a big shout out to all of our teachers and our families that are really having to make big leaps for the remote learning. Thank you for being involved and having a growth mindset through this and doing your part.

KBBI: And Nurse Carroll.

Nurse Lorne: Yeah. Let's see. I just wanted to unpack a little bit again of the why we're doing all this in terms of how well COVID is transmitted, it transmits to other people just as well as the common cold but it's much more threatening. So COVID has a fatality rate of 3% or below. And that's a really important factor to keep in mind. So in terms of death that's much more like the 1918 pandemic. But the good news is unlike a hundred years ago we are able to engage folks in each other in community mitigation measures and it's working. Not only that there's a lot of good coming out of COVID in terms of connections and aligning goals for improving community health. So I just want to say thanks.

KBBI: Well. Thank you Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Department of Public Health and also thanks to Pegge Erkeneff from a Kenai Peninsula School District, Chief Mark Kirko and Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. This has been the COVID 19 Thursday Brief.


COVID-19 covid-19
Kathleen Gustafson came to Homer in 1999 and has been involved with KBBI since 2003
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