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Homer’s COVID testing site to close amid low demand

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Hope McKenney
For several months, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has been what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a green community — the lowest level of risk.

South Peninsula Hospital is closing its COVID-19 testing site Friday after nearly three years of providing services in Homer.

“Going on a year now, we at the hospital have been kind of in a wrap up phase of the pandemic response, and we call it ‘Operationalizing COVID,’” said hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro. “And that means that we have been trying to put anything related to COVID into our normal lines of service or operations.”

For several months, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has been what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a green community — the lowest level of risk. That’s determined through a combination of case rates, hospitalization rates and death rates.

“Not only does that pencil out, but we see that here, our demand for testing at the walk up clinic is very, very slow,” Ferraro said. “Sometimes zero in a day or days. So the demand for testing is gone.”

That’s due to a combination of factors, according to Ferraro. There are now more places to get tested for COVID, like at doctor’s offices or at home, with test kits. Also, Ferraro said, the virus isn’t spreading like it was a year ago, and there are more tools to handle cases and prevent spread.

“The community and the state have medication and therapeutics available,” Ferraro said. “There's plenty of vaccines available, whether you're just getting your first one or your second one or your third one.”

According to the state’s data hub, 47% of Kenai Peninsula Borough residents have completed their primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine — meaning their first two shots.

Respiratory viruses have been threatening hospital capacity in Alaska this winter, as a number of sicknesses circulate.

Ferraro said South Peninsula Hospital is adding a respiratory test that checks for the Influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. That test will be available through the hospital’s “request a test” program, which allows anyone to visit the hospital’s lab and buy certain tests, without a physician referral.

But Ferraro said going to a provider or calling public health when sick is still the best option.

“If you do it on your own, there's nobody to connect you with treatment, because you're the one getting the test results,” Ferraro said.

She also said insurance can cover some of the costs of tests when done through a provider.

Ferraro said the hospital could reopen the COVID-19 testing site if there's another spike in COVID-19 cases.

In 2019, Hope moved to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor to work for Alaska's Energy Desk and KUCB — the westernmost public radio newsroom in the country. She has lived, worked and filed stories from California, New York, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba and Alaska.
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