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Covid-19 Brief with Kathleen Gustafson

City of Homer

Each Thursday since the Covid-19 pandemic emergency was declared in Alaska, KBBI has gathered members of the Homer Unified Command to update the community on the latest. This week, more conversation about the value of social distancing and why "herd immunity" will not save us. Host Kathleen Gustafson's guest today were Lorne Carroll, Mark Kirko, Jenny Carroll and Derotha Ferraro.

Kathleen Gustafson, KBBI:
Good morning, and we will get Nurse Lorne Carroll on the line, and Pegge Erkeneff on the line as soon as possible, but I want to start with good morning, Jenny Carroll I said hello to you and then I cut you off. So….

Jenny Carroll, City of Homer
That's all right. Good morning. 

KBBI: And now the beautiful day out there, which brings me to some questions, people have been really embracing the opportunity to ask you guys questions. I'm so glad that this is happening. So I have one. Let's start with Laura who asks, as we begin to reopen, should Kachemak Bay residents be keeping track of the places we visited and the people we've been in contact with to help with contact tracing?  Can Derotha or Jenny, can either of you talk about that?

Jenny: I sure can. You know, as individuals, it’s pretty limited. The recommendation is to keep being able to keep track of everybody who you saw last week and make sure you can name all those people and where you were.  Some, if you look around, some countries are actually calling it, build your social bubble, like the people who you will mainly be interacting with and the way you can keep your groups pretty small is by prioritizing what and who's most important to you to do. And if you can, if you have an app or piece of paper or just a really phenomenal memory, which I know at my age, you know, is starting to slip a little bit here and there. And I think back on my last two weeks, so I can I do that and sometimes writing it down just helps. So that if there is a positive case and Homer when you are contacted about it, you can say, or if you are positive, you can say these are the places I went, these are the places I had significant contact with and significant contact means that you've been within six feet of another person for at least 10 minutes or more, you know, really more of a significant contact that way. So, if Lorne were on the line, he would be at the top…..

KBBI: Lorne might be on the line. Lorne Carroll, Nurse Carroll, are you there? 

Lorne Carroll, Public Health Nurse
Hi folks. Good morning. 

KBBI: Good morning. Can you talk a bit about contact rate, contact tracing, and if germ keeping a journal for any other reason. 

Lorne: The honest thing here is if I would have just recorded what Jenny said, I would play it back from my head

Jenny: Well, I'll send it to you. 

Lorne: Okay. Do. Well said and nothing to add to Jenny's response to that. 

KBBI: That's amazing. Really. Okay, great. 

Derotha Ferraro, South Peninsula Hospital:
Can I add one thing that,  I would add to remember that the journal is not, then a crutch or an excuse to go spend lots of time with lots of people. Right? I mean, we still want to be limiting the types of engagements that we're doing and activity that we're doing. So, I guess kind of in the words of Dr Zink, research recently said that if you can't name everyone you spent more than 10 minutes with in the last week, then you're probably spending too much time with too many people. 

KBBI: Well. Okay. Also on this page of questions, a lot of people don't want to wear a mask even in the grocery store where it's impossible to maintain social distancing? What are the barriers? Are you embarrassed? Are you afraid of ridicule? Are you uncomfortable or do you feel like it's unnecessary?  Can you get a mask? I mean, what are some of the, I think that really to address all of this, the answer is just get a mask. 

Derotha: Yep. Kathleen, I would add something else there too, is that wearing a mask is very different and it's uncomfortable in a lot of ways. So another solution to the grocery store might be just ask a friend or a family member to pick up some items for you. That way you can just stay out of that loop. Right? And also, I mean, it's true that there are people who are claustrophobic or asthmatic or can not, for some reason wear a mask. And we're all, that means you and I are wearing a mask for them. That's how it works. I mean, there are vulnerable, vulnerable people or people for some reason you don't have it, but you could stay home. All of us out there wearing a mask, it's not just, well, I'm not trying to protect myself. We're working toward a healthy community. 

KBBI: That's right. This is what way that we take care of each other in the community. Many ways that by me wearing a mask, I'm protecting you. And if you wear a mask, you're protecting me from any kind of spread of germs. 

Derotha: And if we deliver groceries or we order groceries for someone that is more of a vulnerable population, like an asthmatic who might be quite vulnerable to the COVID virus. That's another way that we're helping each other and the community gets through this time. And really, I think the virus will be with us for a long time and yeah. The more we can adapt and adopt the new practices that are needed, the healthier we all will be. And that includes your mask. I'm wearing one whenever I go to town, I feel like I stand out compared to most people out there. One day I went to town, I saw one other person with a mask. And, I think it's partly just cultural and behavioral. We're not used to it. And one time I went to town and I have masks, I didn't grab it. So not only do you have to have a mask, you have to have it with you and be willing to wear it.

KBBI: And it has to be clean. 

Derotha: Yes, exactly. Yes. And we've had tremendous support from community volunteers producing those masks. The last count I got, it was 2025 masks were made in Homer and distributed. I'm sure it's higher than that now. 

Jenny: And just that part of how our community just pours itself out to support one another and face these new times with the new kinds of tools we need to be doing to be able to keep this virus from just ravaging the community anyway. And you can still get one for free from Cyclogical and from Homer Saw and Cycle. And if you have a business and you're starting with the opening up phases, if you're in that first phase, then you can,  contact Skiff Chicks to get masks for all of your staff and all of those numbers and contacts and addresses are available on the City of Homer's website on the COVID 19 page. 

KBBI: So exactly. I'm going to circle back around to you, Chief really soon, but I've got another question here from the email pile.  KBBI, I quoted someone yesterday in a news story who said they wanted to let herd immunity prevail, and I want the panel to discuss that, what the implications for public health with regard for someone who says, I'm not going to wear a mask or distance myself, I'm just going to let everybody catch it. 

Lorne: I could take a first stab and then everybody can have a whack at that one. Saving lives of our friends and family. That's kind of the bottom line there. And specifically what makes COVID unique to other viruses and bacteria and other vaccine preventable diseases is that COVID 19 is as communicable. You can pass it along as easily as the cold virus, but it's as deadly as the 1918 flu. So we know that up to 3% of folks pass away who get the infection.

KBBI: That's kind of the bottom line. Anybody else?

Jenny: Well.  you just heard from the public health expert, so that is definitely an issue there, certainly it could be based on what we've seen in States and countries that are dealing with this in advance of us. It certainly could be crippling to the healthcare system if we were to allow it to work that way, it could definitely overrun our capacity to care and have the right supplies so if we can avoid that approach, it seems that it would be a better win for all.   

Chief Kirko: Yeah, I'll support Lorne's comments as well. 

KBBI: And does anybody else want to add into that before I move onto the next question?

Chief Kirko: I think it just, it's probably good to have that unanimous agreement amongst all of us that I would follow suit with the last two recommendations of, you know, let's think about the best way to handle this situation and understanding all of the ramifications of our actions, if we can, if we continue to pace, we are with this spread then we're feeling pretty comfortable that we're managing it at our levels that we can deal with. But,  if it gains momentum, it's going to really tax the system with the hospital. EMS, you know, Lorne's a group of public health, so I guess some really, really solid box should go into some decisions that people are making before they just make that okay. 

KBBI: Thanks Chief. And Lorne, before we move on, KBBI News Director Jay Barrett just emailed me and asked if you could make it plain for people and explain what is meant by herd immunity.

Lorne: Oh yeah, sure thing. So each virus, depending upon how easily it's transmitted through a community we kind of think of it in terms, sometimes, of herd immunity. And the thought behind herd immunity is there is enough  immunity within the individuals within a population that the virus won't be transmitted from person to person and have spread within a community so it's kind of a complicated scenario. I almost wish I had like a whiteboard and we were meeting via webinar but just to give you an example, in the case of measles, it’s really herd immunity if 95% of the entire population has immunity, then the remaining 5% might be a safe and that's because  diseases like measles are so transmittable are we sure that COVID 19 behaves that way? Yeah, we are sure. As far as we know,  measles is probably about seven times more transmittable compared to COVID. but like I mentioned before, COVID transmits to other people very easily just like the common cold. It's just that there is no vaccine for it is what makes it so dangerous. So there is no primary preventative measures, outside of the community mitigation measures that we've all been participating in, like keeping a distance between folks and wearing a mask. 

KBBI: Thanks. Chief Kirko and Jenny, I want to ask this question that came in by email, which is what comprehensive protective measures are being taken right now and are in the works in plan for the out of state and in state visitors who might bring greater exposure of residents to the virus. 

Chief Kirko: Well, I think, to start with, it's that messaging component that we are trying to make very, very clear to anybody that's visiting Homer.  You know, where they can find good information to help keep themselves safe and help keep the community members safe, while they're here. The businesses and then state mandates that are happening right now, and the changes to some of those, they're putting in those protective measures in those mandates for businesses as they start to slowly reopen certain or segments of the business. So that's kind of where we are at this point and I'm sure that there's more coming and maybe Jenny wants to add a little bit to that. 

Jenny: I do. Thank you. The City, when Chief said we are working on messaging, part of that messaging, you'll start to see around town. We have just finalized some banners and signs to go in our Parks and Rec and Port and Harbor area where the visitors and locals alike like to go out and recreate. We have poster size placards to go in store windows or public facility windows around town to remind people that we, Homer, is a COVID smart community and this is how you can join us in being COVID smart. And so you will start to see those coming up around town probably by the end of the week, beginning of next week. And the second thing I'd say we could do is we can set the example. So when I go to a country and travel, I often look around me to see what the norms are that I am now part of. And so part of that is wearing a mask. If I go to a town and everyone's wearing masks, I might look around to find a mask to wear.And as we're concerned about other people bringing COVID 19 into the community, we have to think about the example we're setting. And if someone comes into the community and no one's wearing masks, even in the stores, well that's the way they do it here. So those are some of the things you'll see the City doing and in partnership with businesses as well. And then I just encourage you to personally set the example for people who are coming here. 

KBBI: Also, I'm sorry to say, I am not up to date on this, I better get on it.  What is the status of the cruise ships coming into the Harbor? Jenny, do you have any information on that? 

Jenny: I do not, but at this point, I understand, the last I heard, so it may not be the most current, is that, sailings have been canceled into Homer, Gosh, Chief, do you remember, was it into June? 

Chief Kirko: I thought it was through the end of June, was when they were going to take another look at it. 

KBBI: Okay, thanks for that. And I also want to say that Pegge Erkeneff was unable to be on the call today, but she did say she is posting a new resource later today from health and human services for families planning to make a support circle, a support group. Graduation plans are being finalized this week and we'll follow the class of 2020 guidelines that were released late last week. They, the school district is continuing their twice a day meal service through May 19th and she wanted to remind everyone that Friday, tomorrow is school principal appreciation day. So thank you principals. And next week is teacher appreciation week. And please, if you've got a favorite teacher, shout them out, contact them, send them a thank you note. And that is a recommendation from Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. So I want to know if, I'm going to circle back to Nurse Lorne. Can you talk about numbers in the state? Are we seeing a significantly slow growth? 

Lorne: What we're seeing is a steady growth in, I'll recap the numbers here and they're all indicative that as a statewide team, we're doing well and need to stay on the same track in regards to community mitigation measures or doing those things that we can do every moment to stop the transmission of the disease. When taking a global look, we're at 3.2 million cases and here in the U.S. we're over 1 million cases and at 60,000 deaths, about. Here in Alaska, we're holding at 355 cases. That's up several from yesterday and 36 total hospitalizations and 9 deaths. And from yesterday at noon, 240, half, recovered. And so here on the Peninsula,  we're at 19 cases and out of those 19, 2 were in Homer and 1 was named Anchor Point. 

KBBI: Okay. Thank you Nurse Lorne. Derotha can you talk about the South Peninsula Hospital numbers? And also I want to hear from you before we're done about COVID testing and also the antibody test. Go ahead. 

Derotha: So,  I apologize to the listeners, I do not have this morning's numbers. I am having some connectivity issues, so I'm waiting for those to come through at any moment. But as of yesterday's numbers, 277 total tests have been submitted. 242 have been returned negative 1 returned positive. That is still the one from March and 34 are pending. So we do have some updates for COVID 19 testing in general. And, you know, just a reminder that although it is certainly recommended to contact your provider, it is not a requirement. And we offer COVID 19 testing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the hospital's main entrance parking lot. It is advised that you call the COVID nurse first 235-0235, that way they can meet you out at the tent and you would just have a drive through experience. You won't have to get out of the car. We verify that there is no cost to the individual for this. If you were insured, your insurance company will pay for it. If you are not, federal funds through HRSA will cover that. So there's no charge to the individual and all you have to do is be experiencing a symptom or symptoms. Also, we are doing antibody testing. We, Oh, let me talk about the difference to people once you get back to that. For the,  COVID 19 testing, we have those assessed at either the state lab in Anchorage or ANMC, Alaska Native Medical Center. So they are all being processed right in house. So for the antibody testing and, Lorne might be able to explain that in better terms than myself, so the antibody will show if you have been exposed to the virus, my understanding is that those tests are not very accurate, and again, I'll defer to Lorne for that. We are offering those. If you are insured, there's no charge, if you are uninsured, at the moment we've not found a source to cover that, so it is $78 at the moment for that. And, there's just no clarity on the value of it at this moment; it doesn't yet mean that you're immune. There isn't enough research that has gone into it yet to say for certain that that means you’re immune. Lorne, can I pass the microphone? 

Lorne: Sure thing. The antibody test is a blood test and it checks your blood by looking for antibodies. And that might show if you've maybe had previous infection with the virus but just like Derotha said the test is very new, and so it hasn't been studied. So the results aren't known to be very accurate. So the value of the test is really questionable. And that the test is certainly not used to diagnose a person having COVID or not. It's more of a have a look of what may have happened. So if you get COVID 19 your body will create antibodies and then the test really takes a look at what may have happened in the recent or further past. 

KBBI: So it's just a box to tick of the things that might indicate that you have had the virus.

Lorne: That's correct. And we don't really know, at this point how accurate the test is. 

KBBI: Gotcha. I want to thank you all for being here. Let's start with final comments. Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. Is there anything on your list to add today?  

Jenny: Just one thing. We've been talking a lot about what individuals can do to help minimize the spread and I would just like to make a shout out to all the businesses who are finding new ways to do business. It's pretty challenging and requires a lot of creative solutions for our businesses, whether you're a commercial fishermen, managing your crew, coming in from outside or finding crew, or how do I do my gear change when I can't get off of my vessel? How do I do deliveries? And then the businesses here who are used to interacting a lot with the public. So I just want to really send a shout out from the City for everybody who's scratching their heads and finding new ways to do this, and to everybody who is supporting our local businesses through either a delivery takeout, making reservations for a family seating, those kinds of things, so that's really my last comment for the show as I've been thanking KBBI for giving us this venue. 

KBBI: Thanks so much. Chief Mark Kirko. Yeah. Echoing Jenny statements. I just want to say thank you to all the businesses. They're really doing their best to maintain the needs of the community and for the people out there, for all the folks living in Homer that are doing their best to keep this thing at bay and just remind them that the fight’s not over. We're still working it and to keep up the good fight, we will be there for you whenever we can.  Also, I just wanna remind everybody that the wildfire season’s also upon us. Yesterday, there was a fairly significant fire start up in the Wasilla area. And the conditions are very ripe for fire here, so be extra cautious about that.

KBBI: Chief, I'm sorry, you're a connection's a little raw. Did you say in the Wasilla area of fire? Yes. Okay. Okay. Thanks a lot Chief Kirko and Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. Any final words or announcements? 

Derotha: You bet. A few announcements from the hospital. First of all, we, like the other services and businesses in the community, are slowly adapting the way we provide care. And I'm offering more and more services at Homer Medical, for example, Tuesday and Thursday evening walk-in clinics are open and Homer Medical Center has adapted their  processes and are now offering pediatric wellness exams. So that's our, kind of first entry back into, kind of regular services. And now's not the time to put your little ones at risk for other things. And so it's important to keep up with those types of medical appointments. I want to also ask everybody listening to just consider sharing the message you're listening because you want to stay informed and make sure and share that with others in your circle. 

KBBI: Okay. Thanks. Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital and Nurse Lorne Carroll, care to have the last word? 

Lorne: Yeah, thanks. I found a definition of herd immunity that sums it up much better than I did several minutes ago. So herd immunity is the resistance of the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results in sufficiently high proportion of the individuals in that community too, that are immune from the disease. And that's usually through vaccination and can be through having the active disease. And so just to break it down and apply that concept to the Southern Kenai Peninsula, we've got about 15,000 folks on the Southern Kenai Peninsula, and there is no vaccine available. So if folks did get the disease within this community,  the expense would be at 3- 4% fatality rate. That would be 500- 600 people would pass away due to COVID. So that leaves, and that's certainly horrible, and our healthcare system wouldn't be able to handle that. And so that leaves only one really good option which is community mitigation measures. Happy to talk through that with anyone too, anytime at 235-8857  that's 235-8857. Thanks. 

KBBI: Thanks so much, Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Department of Public Health.

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