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COVID-19 Update: Rapidly rising case counts, COVID in patients and workers at SPH

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At last night's Homer City Council meeting, Homer's COVID Incident Command Team delivered their regular report to the Council. Christine Anderson, representing South Peninsula Hospital, spoke of five COVID patient admissions to SPH over the last two weeks, ten COVID-related emergency room visits over the last two weeks and, she said, about 20 clinic visits from COVID positive patients.

"We do have COVID specific treatments such as the Remdesivir and we also have that new outpatient infusion medicine, the short name is BAM, Bamlanivimab. It's been very effective and we're happy to have those doses available," Anderson said.

As of last night's meeting, the hospital has 13 staff members out of work with the virus and another 15 currently quarantining at home with symptoms. The hospital conducted 106 tests a day over the last seven days with a 9% positivity rate, up from 8 % for the previous seven days. So far, Anderson says, they have bed space and resources they need to treat patients effectively as case numbers continue to grow.  Homer Mayor Ken Castner cited SPH's testing data to point out a significant statistic.

"Castner: How I read this report, I'm seeing PCR positives, there's 284. Are those new positives that we've had since the beginning of keeping track of Homer Testing?
Anderson: Yes
Castner: And so, is it true to say that one third of that number happened last week."

Mayor Castner's math checks out.  Almost one third of the total positive test results over the last eight months at South Peninsula Hospital were reported in the last 7 days.

Nurse Lorne Carroll's report to the Council concentrated on contact tracing and vaccine delivery. On Monday, State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink announced that the State could receive it's first doses of COVID vaccine by the end of the year. Nurse Carroll said the local public health department is preparing for that day, but reminded the Council that as of today, there is no vaccine available for COVID in Alaska.

" The major unknown at this  point is when COVID vaccine will be available for anyone and when it will be available on the Southern Kenai Peninsula," said Nurse Carroll.
 

Rapidly escalating numbers of positive cases mean that contract tracing is becoming increasingly difficult. The State is now seeing 500 to 700 positive cases per day and they're relying on people who have tested positive to assist by notifying their own contacts. There are currently 351 contact tracers in the State. 90 of them are public health nurses. Nurse Carroll says there is no way that contract tracers can keep up with the rising number of cases, so they're focusing their efforts on the contacts of long term care patients and tracing large gatherings.

"When you go get a test at a medical home or a hospital, when it pops up positive, you need to go home and do a couple things. One is, go home and isolate yourself.  And that's at least 10 days beyond the date of your specimen that turned up positive for COVID. Number 2 is figure out who your contacts are and call them up and say - I turned up positive and you need to stay home for 14 days beyond the last time that we were in contact," Nurse Carroll said.

All the Incident Command Team members stressed the importance of wearing a mask when interacting with others and of limiting Thanksgiving celebrations to family groups.  Homer Fire and EMS Chief Mark Kirko said the City has a good stock of protective wear but they're about to make a new order to plan for the new year.

"We're going to kind of take a look at our numbers and make sure we have anything we nbeed, and I want to invite any of our partners out there to contact me if you do have needs and I will try to get things through the State as quickly as I can, you know, as far as PPE," Chief Kirko said.
 

South Peninsula Hospital continues to offer free, daily COVID testing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at their drive-up facility at 4201 Bartlett Street. On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, They'll be testing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call to let them know you're coming in for a test at 235-0235.