COVID-19 Brief: Thursday, July 2, 2020
Jenny Carroll, Information Officer for the City of Homer, Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Homer Public Health Clinic, Derotha Ferraro of South Peninsula Hospital, and Jody Mastey, administrator for the SBERG loan program are the guests this week. Every Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. KBBI's Kathleen Gustafson and representatives from the Homer Unified Command answer listener questions live on the air. If you have questions for the panel, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to techincal error, this audio begins two minutes into the show, Nurse Lorne Carroll's complete comments are in the written transcript below.
Nurse Lorne Carroll, Homer Public Health Nurse, DHSS:
(giving current COVID-19 Southern Kenai Peninsula case counts) …...Anchor Point 8, Fritz Creek 3, Other South 28, Homer proper 42 and on the Southern Kenai 81 and about 48, really roughly half of those are recovered so far.
Kathleen Gustafson, KBBI:
And what about the rate of growth on the Peninsula? Are we still leading the State in the rate of growth for cases?
Nurse Lorne: I guess I would say, out of the nearly a thousand cases in the State, we've got about roughly 10% of those, but only a 2%, pardon me, yeah, 2% of the population. So in terms of those numbers, we're holding steady and there's other areas of the State that are having a lot of activity as well.
KBBI: Okay. Thanks Nurse Lorne. Also, I was reading something from, that came out from Governor Dunleavy's office about contact tracers, that there is, is it that there's more work than there are people or that they've stopped hiring?
Nurse Lorne: Yeah, that's a good question. In terms of public health nursing, we have 158 employees statewide and we've hired an additional about 60 short-term non-permanent registered nurses to help us out with the index case interviews and contact tracing. And what that does is, it's an attempt to help free up the public health nurses to also work at systems and community level. In addition, we have about 400 folks that are ready, nearly ready to be deployed from a formal partnership that we have with University of Alaska Anchorage and those folks are being trained and being prepared for contact tracing and index case interviews.
KBBI: Thanks Nurse Lorne, Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital, can we start with the numbers at South Peninsula Hospital? It looks like we have a couple of new positive cases since the last time we spoke.
Derotha Ferraro, Spokesperson, South Peninsula Hospital:
Yeah, but the good news there, Kathleen is that it's just a couple. So in the last week it's only really been two or three, so that's really good news compared to how we were at the beginning of the month. So we've done 4,266 swabs, of those 4,097 are negative, 77 positive and we have 92 pending. And I'll just remind everybody too, that there are some duplicate individuals in these numbers. Now there are people from all over the State in these numbers because of fisheries testing, because of visiting travelers and even out-of-staters now, because of folks coming in from out-of-state. So, like is our testing really a picture of our service area, not, I'm not quite clear on that, but at least it's a data set that we can track and watch.
KBBI: And what about the parameters for testing? Have they changed? Are you still, do you have to ration the tests in any way? Have you had to?
Derotha: We are still limiting testing to certain groups of individuals. So it's critical infrastructure workers, fisheries, recent travel out-of-state, known exposure to a confirmed positive, any COVID like symptom or a sudden onset of an unexplained symptom, anyone with a provider referral coming for a pre-procedure screening or because they are ill and even some of the ferry passengers. So we have lots of specific groups and the group that cannot get tested is just kind of that worried well, that like, Oh, I wonder if I have it and come up and test, those folks, no.
KBBI: Okay. So the people though in critical infrastructure, in the fishing industry, they don't need a referral. They just need to request a test. Is that correct? Derotha: Correct.
KBBI: Okay. And the next, call with your questions, 235-7721, Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer, I do have a question in the queue for you because it's been two weeks since the last time we heard about the wastewater treatment. Have there been new results?
Jenny Carroll, Public Information Officer, City of Homer:
There have been some new results and I'm sorry to say, I'm not up on them today, but I do hope that on a future call-in show we can feature our Wastewater Superintendent Todd Cook, and some folks from Biobot so that you can really drill down into what we're seeing in the numbers there. Formally, the Biobot study is still were going on and the City is going to step in and help fund that going forward so that we can keep an eye on those numbers and learn what we can. But I'm sorry, I'm not up on it today.
KBBI: Well, that's all right. I'll reach out. Next Wednesday is open. We could spend some time talking about wastewater with Todd, if he's available, because I know having done a story about this, you can see some about how this happens, how the testing takes place, the protocols and things if you go to https://www.kbbi.org/#stream/0 and you can search wastewater.
Jenny: And we have been getting a few questions into the call line at the City and people are wondering about the safety of our water supply and I just want to assure everyone that there is no COVID-19 in our water supply and what they're tracing in the wastewater are some genetic pieces of the virus. So I want to just allay people's fears that way.
KBBI: Also I, the other thing I have that I saw on the City's website, but I want to check in with you, the State moratorium on evictions ended yesterday, right? July 1st, so now it's perfectly legal for a landlord to serve you with eviction papers. Can the City act in any way to get information out to people, direct them to funding they might get from….
Jenny: There was just recently AHFC, the Alaska Finance Housing Corporation statewide, put out a program….
KBBI: Yeah but that's expired.
Jenny: And that closed, but everyone was funded, so we are definitely looking at that. And City Council, moving forward, will be making decisions about, we had talked earlier at the top of the hour about the CARES Act and yes, the City got an allotment of CARES, federal CARES Act money to help with economic downfall from COVID-19. The SBERG program, which we'll talk about the Small Business Economic Relief Grant program in a few minutes, that was the first program that City Council rolled out policy on, and applications are available, we'll get into that later, the next buckets, if you will, of money that City Council is looking at will possibly extend to nonprofits and to individual relief for families and individuals for economic relief and we're still figuring out the policy and the best way to use that for folks and certainly one of the options is similar to the AHFC program where we can do a mortgage and rent relief program. That's one of the options on the table.
KBBI: Okay. Thanks, Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer, we will get back to that and we'll talk more in depth, in about 15 minutes with Jodi Mastey, who's contracting with the City to administrate, but back to Nurse Lorne Carroll, can you talk a little bit about this weekend and people getting together, are there, first of all, the travel mandates are only for people traveling from out-of-state. Can we first talk about the safest ways to recreate and get out and celebrate if you're staying in state?
Nurse Lorne: Yeah, that's a good thought. And thanks for the question, you know, in terms of having maybe a three day week and there, some folks may be, fortunate to have a four day weekend, you know, and the weather has been perfect. I think we're hitting some of the warmest temperatures and most beautiful days of the summer so far. So I think we will definitely see a lot of movement. So it might be a great opportunity to get outside and take a hike but as you bump into other folks, or you plan to spend time with other folks, one goal might be to keep a distance away from other folks. We know that in terms of COVID, most droplets in the air, drop clear out of the air within about four feet so that's where the six feet of distance comes from, and then if you're outside doing things like singing or running, it's best to widen that space to about 20 feet or more. And then, you know, throughout I've been thinking about it myself, because I'm thinking about getting a break this weekend from work is if you do find yourself within someone else's bubble or within six feet, that might be a good time to reconsider and just back up while staying physically distant, but socially connected.
KBBI: Thanks Nurse Lorne. Are the travel mandates, can you briefly go through the travel mandates for out-of-state? Are you familiar enough? I know I can talk to Jenny a little bit about that too.
Nurse Lorne: Ooh, can the team help me with that one?
KBBI: So what do you say Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer?
Jenny: For out-of-state travelers coming into the State, what the State of Alaska is asking folks to do is to get a test, a COVID test before they enter the State. So when you're at your home, getting ready to travel, get a test and have that test result in hand within 72 hours of departure, and you can show that at one of the Alaska entry airports, and you would travel if you have a negative test, obviously, and then you can get through the airport. The other option is there's traveler declaration forms that everyone needs to fill out when they come up. You can choose to get tested at the airport. And I understand from calls with DHSS, that those, that process is going fairly smoothly in Anchorage, test results vary on how quickly they come back, some people have reported that they're coming back within three days, others are having to wait longer. And it really is a function of the numbers of tests that are happening both in-state, but also any of those tests that are sent out-of-state. With the rise in cases in the lower 48, labs that we've traditionally relied on as a state to get results back to us, they're getting busier too. So there may be a lag time for those results, but a traveler getting tested in the Anchorage airport or any other, Fairbanks airport would get tested there and then are asked to quarantine at their destination until they get their results back. And I tell you what, on a day like today, sitting out on a deck and quarantining sounds really good to me. I think we can all stand a little time to chill out and enjoy this weather. So encourage people to quarantine until you get those test results. Once you're also given a voucher that is good for a second test. You know, the incubation period for COVID-19 is roughly 14 days, so when you get that test at the airport, those tests could still miss the onset of COVID-19 so the Governor's asking everyone to do a second test a few days into their stay, like 7 to 10 days into their stay, to just make sure. And then after that, it's great to just enjoy Alaska as a traveler.
Derotha: And Kathleen, for our listeners who have visitors coming up this summer, I encourage you to use https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and when you go to that site and you hit the traveler button, there's just really great images and boxes for people to click based on their situation and it has really clear instructions for people on how to make the trip to Alaska, easy and safe. Just, the more people realize to use that in preparation for their trip, the happier they're going to be in entering the State and for folks who have those vouchers for the followup tests, the hospital does honor those.
KBBI: What about the trip out of Alaska, when you're preparing to go to Arizona? Jenny: Well, I would take all the precautions that we've been talking about. Make sure, I would wear a mask, I would wash my hands, avoid touching my face, as well as you can on the airplane, to be able to keep distance, at least in the airports. If you're traveling through airports with layovers, those very common sense, preventative measures should help tremendously.
KBBI: Also check to see where you're traveling to because there will be mandates within that state.
Jenny: Correct. You bet.
Derotha: And remember when you return, you fall under the guidelines of returning, you know, coming into the State.
KBBI: Right, it doesn't matter that you're a local. Derotha Ferraro this one came from my email for you, are the six cases that were COVID-19 positive workers at the hospital, are they back to work? And are you still having staffing issues with people having to be out to quarantine?
Derotha: I am very happy to say that as of last Thursday, all of those hospital employees that were out due to positive tests are back to work. So I'm just so happy that no patient or resident exposure happened with those and everybody's well and back to work and no new positives among the employees. Are we experiencing, you know, labor shortage? Yes. Again, because of our strict return to work protocols, meaning that if anybody has even one symptom of COVID, they are not allowed to come to work and they have to have two consecutive negative tests. So that takes time because they have to be days apart. So folks are out in many departments, which does make it a little more challenging for workflows and anticipating those absences. So we are hiring some temporary positions, especially for the swabbing tent. So if there are any nurses who are here for the summer and looking for work, we are hiring just kind of temporary swabbing positions for the swabbing stations. And in the other areas, we're just all trying to cover for each other. Our volumes aren't totally back to a hundred percent so that kind of helps balance it a little bit and folks are really, really helping each other out and covering for each other so it's really great.
KBBI: There is room enough and space enough and equipment enough at the hospital right now to treat anyone who might need treatment for COVID?
Derotha: There is right now and we're still building capacity with that. So what happened was that in the spring, when the pandemic first started rolling out in the country, we prepared for the masses and we launched our plans that worked for hundreds of COVID positive patients, and that's when we opened the church as our alternate care site and really geared up for numbers, extreme, extreme numbers. And then we started, you know, the nation slowed down, we went into lockdown and so the cases didn't happen and so everybody kind of transitioned back to open Alaska. And now what we're seeing is maybe the new norm or the current norm, which is a parallel. And that is a parallel of the hospital offering all of the normal care for the normal reasons that we always have, but paralleled with being able to give care for COVID positive patients. And so far we've not been crushed with numbers; we're able to do those simultaneously. We had upped our number of negative pressure rooms in our inpatient back in April and as of this week, we're adding three more. So that unit was built originally with two negative pressure rooms, we added three, and now this week we're adding three more. We continue to build capacity to be able to run parallel COVID positive with regular patient care.
KBBI: So I want to check in with Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital and Nurse Lorne Carroll one more time before we switch focus to Jodi Mastey from the City of Homer who's on the line. Derotha is there information that you feel like you need to get out to the community for this weekend?
Derotha: Well, I guess two important messages. First. I want to remind everybody that the hospital has some of the strictest, most protective protocols in place, anywhere on the Peninsula and our infection prevention efforts really provide a safe environment for employees and for the patients and residents. So I don't want headlines to scare people away from care because really there's just so many impressive protocols in place to keep people safe here and in all of our facilities.
KBBI: I have to ask, what you mean by that?
Derotha: Kind of remember where we were at the beginning of June when we were coming off of the graduation celebrations, Memorial day gatherings, what happened after that? We saw a spike in positive cases so we spent the first couple of weeks of June with high numbers and that's how we earned that reputation of the highest number, highest percentage of positives. And over the last week or 10 days, we've really come out of that and really been able to slow the spread and mitigate the spread. And so I hope that we remember all that great work and we use safe behaviors and celebrate safely over the holiday weekend.
KBBI: Derotha, I have to ask, what do you mean when you say, headlines making people afraid to seek care? What are you talking about?
Derotha: Two weeks ago when our radio and newspaper reported on the hospital employees having positive cases, that can add anxiety to somebody who's seeking care and so I just think it's really important that people understand the levels of infection prevention efforts that are happening within the organization to keep everybody safe.
KBBI: And you can confirm that you no longer have employees who are out due to being COVID positive?
Derotha: That's absolutely correct. We no longer have any employees out they're all back to work.
KBBI: Nurse Lorne Carroll, is there anything on your list for today?
Nurse Lorne: Yeah, just a couple quickies. I just wanted to say, good job and special thanks to South Peninsula Hospital. That's really extraordinary to just have no transmission within the hospital work setting, they've got a lot of facilities and so many employees, I just want to say a great job. And then second, lastly, I was noticing Anne Zink posted on her Twitter account that you can now sign up for daily case counts notification via text or email, you could Google that https://alaska.gov/ delivery alerts or look it up on Anne Zink’s Twitter and have a great weekend folks.
KBBI: Thanks Nurse Lorne. And thanks to Derotha Ferraro. You guys, I'm going to go ahead and disconnect Derotha from South Peninsula Hospital and Nurse Lorne, and we're going to switch to Jodi Mastey. Jenny Carroll, can you start by introducing Jodi Mastey and the project she does? First of all, are you there, Jodi?
Jodi Mastey, City of Homer: I’m here!
KBBI: Oh yay! And second, Jenny, could you start with a brief overview of the project and Jodi being brought into contract?
Jenny: Sure, sure. As folks probably are aware, the federal government has been distributing CARES Act funding to boroughs, municipalities, states to help with the economic impact from COVID-19 and the measures that we take to prevent its transmission and the City is a recipient of those funds through the State and each municipality who received funds goes through and develops programs that make sense for their community. And the first program that the City of Homer, City Council agreed to do is for small business economic relief to get the money back into the community, to support our small businesses that support the economy. So there will be other programs that our City Council will be rolling out but the first one that's being rolled out is called SBERG Small Business Economic Relief Grant program. It's a grant and at the City, just like the hospital, doing parallel jobs, caring for their normal caseloads there and COVID, well, the folks at the City are doing the same thing. I have now two jobs, Public Information Officer and the work that I would have normally been doing minus COVID. So we are all working very hard at the City to keep services going and it made sense with adding a new program to bring a consultant on to help develop those materials under the guidance of the City and to be a spokesperson and to help applicants to the program understand the program and work with finance as they review and pay grants out going forward.
KBBI: Thanks so much, Jenny Carroll from the City. You're going to stay on to help move this conversation forward. Welcome Jodi Mastey. Thank you for calling in Kathleen.
Jodi: Thanks for having me. This is a great opportunity that I'm thankful for to be a part of. It's important to our small businesses that you receive some aid during these hard times.
KBBI: Can you break down a little bit, what is available and who is eligible?
Jodi: Right. So the criteria is pretty simple. You need to have a business located in Homer City limits. You need to have recorded sales tax to the borough, either the third quarter or fourth quarter of 2019, or the first quarter of 2020, and you need to be in good standing with the borough, taxes are paid up. You have to have less than 50 employees. Did you say something?
KBBI: Yeah, so good standing with the borough? Does that mean no outstanding taxes or something?
Jodi: Yes. Yes and fortunately, the borough has supplied a list and so there's no interpretation that's needed to be done. But if you have any questions about that, please reach out and call me. I'll give you my contact information after we're done speaking and it's also on all the forms on the website. So if there's any questions you have just always please reach out.
KBBI: So a person goes to the City of Homer website, correct? https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/ and there they can find the application. What kind of verification do they need?
Jodi: Verification, you will be asked questions about, of course the business, the legal owner. You will need to supply a W9. You will need to answer questions on how COVID has affected you and your business, what kind of losses? How can you define your losses? This will be a check box for certification. You will then also have to verify you have less than 50 employees. The goal is try to get this as simple as possible in order to make it available to as many of our small businesses as we possibly can.
KBBI: Let's go ahead right now and if you have any questions for Jodi Mastey or Jenny Carroll concerning SBERG funding, you can call right now. We're going to be on for a few more minutes, 235-7721 or you can email a question to email@example.com Jodi Mastey, back to you. What's the timeline for this? September, is that when the deadline is?
Jodi: It is, or when the $3 million has been awarded. And so I would recommend if you think you qualify for this program, don't wait, let's get your application in as soon as you can. One caveat I want, this is CARES Act funding, and this is all outlined on the material as well. But if you think that by being awarded this grant might be limiting to other opportunities out there and so it's important for you to consider all of your options when applying for this grant.
KBBI: So that's because, is it true that if you qualified for State funding, you would not qualify for this?
Jodi: That is not true. If you qualify for any other State or federal CARES Act funding, you still can qualify for this grant as long as you meet the requirements, which would be your businesses located inside of City limits and you're in good standing with the borough and you have collected sales tax for the third, fourth quarter of 2019, or the first quarter of 2020.
KBBI: Jenny Carroll?
Jenny: Hey, I just like to also clarify that as far as eligibility, if you've received funds from any other grant program that used CARES Act funding, you can still apply for City funding. However, we caution business owners to look at all the different programs out there, primarily the State program. I know legislators are trying to change this, but when the CARES Act legislation went through, there was a stipulation that if anyone had received CARES Act funding already, you would be ineligible for the State small business CARES Act program that's going on right now. The State is offering a lot more support per business based on eligible expenses than the City is, so we urge people to look at your options. Now, the legislature is trying to turn this back, turn this over so that if you've received some small CARES Act funds, say, from the small business association or something like that, then you can still be eligible for State funds. So if that legislation goes through to change that law so that people who have had CARES Act monies already can still apply for the State. Great. Bring your application to the City, but just look at, follow that legislation. We will be updating the City website as that all, as that goes through.
KBBI: And so your recommendation is just apply for everything that you qualify for?
Jenny: Apply for things and make a strategy. Look at what's out there and make a strategy. If you're going to go for State funding to support your business, do that first then come to the City. So we're hoping to get the money out to everybody who needs it and wants it and right now we're just wanting everyone to look at the options and make smart decisions about which is first, at least right now, as the law stands.
KBBI: Jodi Mastey, I want you to verify some things to make sure I've got this straight. Applications are available now on the City of Homer site, I've seen it. https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/ SBERG is the button is the place on the website to click on for the funding and this is not a lottery situation where they're going to take as many as possible and then determine who gets it later. You're saying as soon as that funding that's been allocated is spoken for, people have applied for it, then the program stops giving out?
Jodi: That's correct. Yes.
KBBI: And how much money is that?
Jodi: $3 million, the grant awards are $3,000, so that's a thousand applicants that can be approved.
KBBI: And this is for businesses in the City of Homer.
Jodi: That's correct.
KBBI: With fewer than 50 employees.
Jodi: Correct. Any questions, please reach out to me, firstname.lastname@example.org or my phone number (907) 299-5978.
KBBI: And I expect there's a link to you on the SBERG part of the City of Homer's page as well? https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/covid-relief/small-business-economic-relief-grant-sberg
Jodi: Absolutely. Yes.
KBBI: Okay. And is there anything else that you feel like you should add to this?
Jodi: I feel that if you have any questions regarding this, give me a call. If you are unsure if you're eligible, apply. I will let you know what I find and what Jenny was saying about other CARES Act opportunities. Yes. Please take all that into consideration as well. But if you have any questions reach out.
KBBI: Then we'll definitely, let's check back in in a week or two and see how it's going and see if there've been, you know, questions that have arisen or issues that come up that need addressing. Thanks so much for your time. Jenny Carroll?
Jenny: Yes. I'd like to also, for people without computer access, you can pick up a paper application at the City Clerk's office. It's City Hall, it's the downstairs door, off Kachemak Way. And then if you have a paper copy and you're wanting to deliver it to City Hall, you will actually deliver it upstairs off of Pioneer Avenue at the main entrance there's a little drop box there, right by the door. Please put your materials in a sealed envelope and drop it off there. That's the finance department box and that's where Jodi will be retrieving completed applications and applications will be dealt with on a rolling basis. So it won't be like we collect them all and then in September make decisions.
KBBI: Right. Sounds like Jodi Mastey gets back to you.
Jenny: Yes. She will get back to you. And the City will be making their grants on a continual basis through September.
KBBI: And so with regard to City Hall, the upstairs is pretty wide open, but are you on limited amount of people? Downstairs the corridors are pretty narrow
Jenny: Yes we’re still on a limited public basis as we have been all along. You can make an appointment to come in and meet with someone and there are accommodations in place with plexiglass and social distancing reminders and to wear a mask in City Hall is great too. So we do accept public, but we try to do everything we can on phone, computer, drop offs and to keep the communications open and also keep COVID safe.
KBBI: Well, thank you, Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer and Jodi Mastey, consulting with the City of Homer to run the SBERG funding for businesses in the City. Thank you both for being on the COVID-19 brief and we'll check back in soon.
Jenny: Thanks Kathleen for the opportunity to get the word out.
KBBI: Thanks Jodi. Bye bye.
Jodi: Thank you, Kathleen. Bye bye.
KBBI: And this is KBBI Homer AM 890 I'm Kathleen Gustafson. The time is 9:39. And coming up at the top of the hour at 10:00 AM, Claudia Hanes. We'll have radio Storytime from the Homer Public Library. Thanks for joining us on the COVID-19 Thursday brief.