Jenny Carroll, Information Officer for the City of Homer, Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Homer Public Health Clinic, Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Derotha Ferraro of South Peninsula Hospital discuss the latest from the Homer Unified Command and answer listener questions about COVID relief funds, the fall semester and who qualifies for a COVID test.
Go to the City of Homer's COVID-19 page for links and information.
Transcript: Thurs 200625
Kathleen Gustafson, KBBI:
This is KBBI. Homer, AM 890 I'm Kathleen Gustafson. The time is 9:03 and you are tuned to the Thursday COVID brief. Let's check and see who's on the line. It's always a fun surprise. Derotha Ferraro, Spokesperson for South Peninsula Hospital. Are you there?
Derotha Ferraro, Spokesperson, South Peninsula Hospital:
I'm here. Good morning, everybody.
KBBI: Good morning to you. Nurse Lorne Carroll from the Homer Public Health Department and the Department of Health and Social Services?
Nurse Lorne Carroll, DHSS, Homer Public Health Department
Hey Kathleen, I'm here. You’re loud and clear.
KBBI: Hey, thanks and Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Good morning.
Pegge Erkeneff, KPBSD
Good morning everybody. Good morning. I'm happy to be here.
KBBI: I've been reading a lot of acronyms lately. Well, also live in the studio it's Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer.
Jenny Carroll, Communications Officer, City of Homer
Good morning, Kathleen.
KBBI: I would like to point out that Jenny and I are not only more than six feet apart, we are facing in different directions and both masked. So just to let you know how it's going over here at the station. Thank you all for being here. I'm going to get to Jenny Carroll very soon because there's some deadlines coming up that you need to know about, but the first thing I want to point out is that yesterday, Derotha Ferraro, there were no new cases detected of COVID-19 at South Peninsula Hospital. Is that right?
Derotha: That's correct. Yay!
KBBI: And how is that as a trend though? I mean, how many times does that happen?
Derotha: I took a look at that and it looks like the last, Oh, where's my notes, here, the last time was last Monday to Tuesday, so a good 10 to 11 days ago. And then the time before that was about the same equal amount of time, about 10 to 11 days before that.
KBBI: Okay, great. And I do want to ask a little bit more about the testing. Are you still testing everyone who comes in for surgery at South Peninsula Hospital? I know that's not the case at Central Peninsula Hospital. Is that still the case? What are the new, what are the testing parameters and how have they changed this week?
Derotha: Okay. So, we do keep this on our hospital website for those who want to check in on it at other times, middle of the night, early morning, whenever, the list of who qualifies for testing. The only change this week is that we added a group. We expanded the net and that is to include ferry passengers because the Alaska Marine Highway have now made some changes to their boarding protocols and for the very long hauls, for example the time the ferry goes from here the whole way to Dutch Harbor, you will be required to test in advance. For the shorter trips that are more in state travel like from here to Seldovia, here to Kodiak, testing is not required, just signing attestations, but for the long hauls when people are going to be on board for many days, they do require that. So we've added ferry passengers to our list. And other than that, it is all still the same fisheries, critical infrastructure, pre-procedure yes, we are definitely still doing pre-procedure. It's really another great example of infection prevention and safety measures within the hospital itself.
KBBI: Thanks. If anyone has any questions for Nurse Lorne Carroll, for Derotha Ferraro, for Pegge Erkeneff we will get to very soon from the school district or for Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer, you can email email@example.com. We're having some sketchy issues with our phone. So you could try calling in 235-7721 but I can't guarantee you'll get to air.
Derotha: Can I add two more things on testing? We do accept the state voucher. So as travelers to our community some of them are residents returning from the winter still but as you are coming into the state, you are given that voucher and you are permitted to use that here at South Peninsula Hospital, as well as folks with known exposure to a confirmed positive, anybody with symptoms as well, I didn't want to stop that list before listeners heard the whole list.
KBBI: And I just got a question by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, Derotha, if someone has received notification that they are a contact of a positive COVID-19 patient, does that qualify them for a test if they are asymptomatic?
Derotha: I might toss that to Lorne. I don't want to step in the middle of instructions that public health is giving them.
Nurse Lorne: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks Derotha. And thanks for the question. That's a good one. And that's a common question. Maybe a couple main take homes is, if you've been notified by public health as being a close contact to someone with a positive COVID result that means that you could develop the disease anywhere from 1 to 14 days after the last known exposure so getting a test on day one, especially in the absence of signs and symptoms really doesn't tell us anything about day two or three or up to day 14. So where you can get a test, it's still doesn't shorten the amount of time that you would need to be in quarantine. So maybe the second thing would be if you have signs and symptoms even minor like a sniffly nose that would indicate that you need to get a test as soon as safely possible and the reason there is that that incubation period could have turned into disease. And we would want to know then, so they could start interviewing you and listing contacts for you and to give them instructions for quarantine as well.
KBBI: Okay. And so I guess I did think that question was for Derotha as well, because, does it qualify them at the hospital for a test if you're asymptomatic and you just know you've come in contact with someone who's positive.
Derotha: So the answer for, are you permitted? Absolutely but I wanted the clinical advice to go along with it.
KBBI: Thank you. Thanks a lot. Well, let's give it a try. It was Pam on the line. Pam, are you there?
Pam: Yes. Yes. Thank you. I understand that getting a test is free to the person being tested, but who is actually paying and how much does it actually cost?
Derotha: Thank you, Pam. What a long answer I have for you. So I will try to summarize it as manageably as possible. So, many insurance companies, well, no, all insurance companies are required to cover COVID related care. So if a person is insured, we bill the person's insurance company and so the insurance company pays for that test. They are also, insurance companies are also required to waive the patient portion of COVID related care. So that's why there's no fee to the individual. If a person is uninsured, there is... No, I won't bore you with what it is. It's basically a federal rural health program and HRSA has some designated funds that we can tap into to cover tests for uninsured from our service area. But the first thing we would do if somebody lived in our service area and they were uninsured is, we would talk to them about insuring them because COVID or not, that's a risk that possibly doesn't need to be taken for this person to be uninsured. So we would offer to get them connected to insurance. And then if that is not possible or not desired, then we would tap into that HRSA support. As far as out-of-state visitors, same thing, insurance and if not, I guess that's just a gift from Alaska, I’m not a hundred percent certain. So as far as how much it costs, it again, the million dollar question, it depends on where your lab is processed. So the hospital is offering as a courtesy, if you will, the swab fee or the swab activity to those that are not insured. To those insured, we would charge the insurance company and then it depends on who processes it. So the state lab has a flat fee that's, I'm not sure what that fee is at this moment, but it's a flat fee regardless of who the person is or the reason. And then the commercial labs and some of the other hospital labs around the state and the West coast have their own fees.
KBBI: Well, maybe we can put that on the list for the next time we speak. You can tell us what those fees are.
Derotha: You bet. Cause it's a wide range
KBBI: I need to change the subject. Now I need to go to Jenny Carroll because there is some rent and mortgage residential assistance that's expiring, right?
Jenny: So thanks Kathleen. I'm going to change the topic a little bit to federal CARES act monies. The federal government, as people may be familiar with, allowed money to come out to communities and states to assist them and their businesses to recover from harm from COVID-19 and the city is a recipient of those CARES act funds as is the state. So I think what I'll do is I'll hold your question about the rental assistance till a little later and start with the city program. On May 26, the city accepted the CARES act grant from the federal government and on June 11th, the city received its first allotment and that was for $3.8 million and of that amount, city council has allocated $3 million of that to be distributed to our small businesses in Homer through a grant program called the Small Business Economic Relief Grant or SBERG for short. So council really wanted to design the program to be a simple process for our local businesses so they can maximize the amount of money to get out in a timely way to help businesses who may be hurting from all the COVID mitigation measures and especially when businesses were asked to be closed as safety measures. So these funds are out there to help assist with the recovery and they will be distributed to businesses as $3,000 grants, just a flat fee, they're not a fee, but a flat gift. And I want to say that the eligibility requirements are that you're a small business, 50 or fewer employees, and the business has to be physically located in the City of Homer. You must have collected and reported taxable sales in the City of Homer and they'll be looking at tax filings for either the third or fourth quarter of 2019, or even first quarter 2020 to see if you are in that category, and you have to be able to certify that your business suffered financial loss due to COVID-19. So those are the three eligibility requirements for the grant. There are some things that would disqualify a business from the grant program. One is you cannot be a marijuana related business, you know, this is a distribution of federal funds so the federal government considers the selling of cannabis illegal, so that is a business sector that's not eligible for these funds. Businesses cannot have filed bankruptcy and also a business must not be delinquent on their sales tax filings and payments to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. So those are the three disqualifiers. The city is starting to roll the program out. They hired a consultant, Jody Mastey to manage the SBERG applications and outreach, and staff is working with her to launch the application process. It'll be coming out soon, it'll be straightforward, simple application where you certify your eligibility, you provide a federal W9 form and the applications will be available online, when they're ready to launch the program, on the city of Homer website, and there'll also be paper forms at city hall in the clerk's office for people. The deadline on this one to apply is September 25th so it gives businesses time to complete the very simple application and get it in. One of the caveats that I'd like to put out there about the program for business owners to think about is that the state also got federal CARES act money too, and they have a small business assistance program as well and that program offers anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per business based on eligible expenses under their program. Right now it's unclear whether a business is eligible for those state funds if they've already received local CARES act funds. So I would caution businesses to keep checking in on that program and if you feel like your eligible expenses qualify under the state to apply through that program first, at this point the legislature may change that rule, they're trying to, there's some disagreement about whether that's a legal move or not.
KBBI: So yes, there is.
Jenny: So hold onto that and think about your strategy going forward if you're a small business, but the city is really wanting to reach out and support our small businesses. And finally, quickly that the close deadline CARES act, so under the state's allotment of CARES act money, they set aside $10 million for rental assistance relief and mortgage relief, so Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is managing that program. If you've been having trouble meeting your mortgage or rental payments due to COVID-19, you can go to the AHFC website, actually, you can go to the City of Homer website https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/ where you can find links to both the small business CARES act program for the state and this rental and mortgage assistance program through AHFC.
KBBI: So that one expires tonight?
Jenny: Tomorrow night, Friday night, and the program is basically set up such that if you meet the eligibility requirements, you put in an application through the AHFC website https://www.ahfc.us/ and they will collect those applications, after the deadline, they're actually going to conduct a lottery to see who are the selected recipients for, I believe it's a $1,200, one time payment that is payable to your landlord or to your financing to your bank or whatever, who you hold your mortgage with. So I want to really make sure people know about that because the deadline is tomorrow night at midnight. So if you think you might be eligible, go to the city website, if you're in need and get that application in, and I will have more news on the small business economic relief program through the city as it starts to roll out and Jodi Mastey will be available to meet with you and discuss the program and field constituent's questions.
KBBI: Yeah. Let's schedule an hour long Coffee Table program and fill some of those things out.
Jenny: Okay. There'll be other programs that the city's rolling out as well as we move forward. So. Great. Yeah. We'll, we'll have time to talk about those when they're formed.
KBBI: Thank you, Jenny Carroll, from the City of Homer. Hey, Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Are you still there?
Pegge: I am here.
KBBI: Thank you for hanging on the line. I know that the district just released a plan for the fall semester. Can you tell people where to access the whole thing and a little bit about what's in it?
Pegge: Sure. So actually what we did is share that we are working on the plan. So the entire plan isn't yet final and we have a school board meeting on July 13th, a Monday evening, at which time the school board will be reviewing that and asking questions. So there's 20 of us that have been working, for months actually, on it and we'll also be opening it up in July to some small focus groups to hear from parents, students, staff, community, so that we really have a broad range of understanding. Right now, what I can share about it is there's so many things to think about and plan and really in three scenarios. So the state came out with a framework, they call it the Alaska Smart Start 2020 plan and that's through the Department of Education so every school district in the state is creating a plan in the schools for a low risk situation or scenario, medium risk and high risk. And then we all have to have a plan that gets approved, it'll be on the state website, but we're working within that framework for school starting in August on the peninsula. What we do know that is key, from a survey that we did at the end of the school year with students and families, and then with staff, so we built in from that a few things into this plan, as it continues to iterate. And one thing that's really important is parental choice, so there will be choices offered for families. We will work on being extremely responsive. We know we want students back in schools in contrast to what happened this spring, when schools were close to students. So as long as everybody's doing their part in our communities, and I keep saying, you know, practice your W's wash your hands, watch your feet just to make sure you're doing that physical distancing and where I'm asked, when you're in large groups, if we each do our own part, then that will help us all together be able to have school continue to be open, right? So a parental choice will be involved, and some local control, we have such a diverse school district with 42 schools and 17 communities. And we're working right now with Dr. Zink and State Epidemiology and Department of Education to have a meeting, to help us determine how do we really identify when we're in a medium to a high risk? Like what does that trigger in our schools? And maybe it's only in a certain few schools or a region that there's different risk levels across the district. So that's a big piece we're still working on, who determines that and how is that determined as you all know, from doing these. We could have a travel related case that's been in isolation that really wouldn't effect schools, versus community spread, versus a student or a staff person that's been in the building. So there's a number of different situations that go into that whole piece of determining what risk levels there will be in school. But the big pieces for the plan are really around. We will have a symptom free school protocol in place. We put that in place last spring, which means if a child has a fever, if they have any of the mild symptoms that we know are related to COVID, that can be so mild that we don't even understand that's what it is, but any symptoms, don't come to school or work, we're going to keep our schools as clean and as safe as we can, from a health perspective to really slow any potential spread of this disease. The other piece that will happen is equity is really important. So who really needs to be in our buildings and what kind of equity do we have? We know that there was certain groups of our families and students that had trouble with having internet access or a place that was really effective for learning. And we know we can't have students on Zoom classes all day long so how can we deliver some digital parallels? So maybe part of a class is working from home and part of a class is in the class and that instructor is delivering it in both, live in person in the class, as well as streaming it. So we need to meet the needs of our students and our families. Some students live with a parent who's high risk, or maybe they have auto-immune or something where it wouldn't really be that safe to be in our buildings and be out in the community. So there will be parental choice, some local control and decisions with schools and equity and then a continuity of education so we're not bouncing back and forth. That will be really important. We know the social, emotional health of everybody is really important and most of us probably have a bit of pandemic fatigue happening. So we want to do as much continuity as we can for our students and our staff when school resumes. So those are some of the big areas that we're working on in this plan that's about 20 pages now. I find it's all built around scheduling, staffing, instructional redesign, and health and safety. And then my ballpark is communications and really being transparent and getting information out even if we're not updating everything, letting parents know that. So that’s what I've been working on a lot with a lot of other leaders in the district and some principals who are working off contract.
KBBI: I thought I had seen a draft. Maybe it was just a draft plan for, a building use plan for Homer High School. I can't pull it up right now. I tried to pull it up on my email, but I'm not quick enough on the draw this morning. But the other question I wanted to ask you about is, are you planning to expand your capability to provide wifi access to students?
Pegge: So that piece, we're working a little bit with our legislators. There's some restrictions from the district to be able to create wifi hotspots throughout the community, through our federal E rate funds. So I actually brought that up with Senator Sullivan and our IT department is working with what can we legally do so we don't risk some of our huge funding and then on a state level, you know, in the peninsula, people sometimes forget that we're on the road system in a lot of places and we don't have good internet access. So that's a piece depending on what will happen with how many students are choosing to do a remote learning or in school a few days a week versus everybody being in school. And that's one of the pieces that's being worked on this summer. I think what you referred to, the other piece that's happening is getting sports and activities back up and so any of the schools that have summer sports and activities have needed to create what's called a mitigation plan, similar to what the state has required of all businesses to show how the safety and health and all the new requirements that we have to have in place in buildings and for activities to happen are being handled. So for example, we have some of our football teams have put their mitigation plans in that have been approved. And volleyball and basketball and some different activities, Caring for the Kenai competition couldn't have the live competition in April that they do so they've put together a plan and that will be the first week in August, hopefully, fingers crossed that we don't have big community spread so that those youth can put their plans forward and we can continue that program. So that might be what you saw on our website https://www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/ There's three separate webpages related to COVID-19 in our schools. One of them is sports and activities, one of them is what's called the Smart Start 2020, and that's for how school will start in August, and the third one is the overall KPBSD and COVID-19, and there's lots of links on that and historical things since March, of letters from the superintendent and different links that we've shared, all of those are accessible through the homepage right upfront so you can easily see how to find those.
KBBI: Thank you so much. Pegge Erkeneff, Spokesperson for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Nurse Lorne Carroll, I feel I have neglected you, but I have a couple of things. A question has come in, which is a really good one for you. The first thing I want to check in with you on is, has the quarantine time passed now for the Tusty?
Nurse Lorne: The, you know, the Tusty has unfolded over the past few weeks because of its high degree of complexity. One of the things that makes the Tustumena different from other cases and clusters is that a ferry is a unique place and really good opportunities for the virus to spread to others. But as of today, both of the Homer public health nurses have both been working on it and I think that nearly a hundred percent of folks are cleared from that and in terms of quarantine, we're thinking about 14 days. And so the implication here is that since the testing has been unfolding over a couple of weeks now, it's because of folks were being potentially re-exposed to the virus.
KBBI: And what about, is everyone cleared at the Senior Center in terms of contact tracing and exposure?
Nurse Lorne: I can't comment on that specifically. I wouldn't confirm nor deny activity there.
KBBI: Thank you. So that's a note for me. And also the final thing I'm going to ask everyone to weigh in on, is that Fred has emailed question to email@example.com, people don't seem to be doing the right thing by wearing masks out in public. Has the City of Homer requested the Governor mandate wearing masks? and have any of you recommended, signed onto letters or anything like that, that the Governor of Alaska, Alaska Governor Dunleavy mandate the use of masks? So, Jenny, I know we discussed this briefly yesterday that the city did not give themselves the right to do things like mandate mask wearing. Did they?
Jenny: As a first class city, I understand that we don't have powers to, ourselves, institute stricter mandates than the state. That's my layman's understanding.
KBBI: But you can take action to recommend things?
Jenny: Yes. And certainly our city council has invited Anne Zink, and they've talked with Commissioner Crum and several people within DHSS about what our options, what their options are as city council members. So there is continuing discussion. There is, certainly Mayor Castner has reached out and said, why, you know, let's do a statewide mask mandate, as far as I understand. So the city council is looking at more formal ways to try to move forward so that the city, and working in partnership with the hospital and public health and our other EOC partners to possibly look at some reasonable powers that the city might be able to put into place so that the city has some flexibility if the outbreak here gets to a point where we feel like we're in danger and yet the state numbers and the state cases aren't showing signs for the state government to institute any stricter mandates. So those are discussions that are ongoing right now to try to give the city and the EOC some flexibility locally.
KBBI: Thank you. Nurse Lorne, I wanted to ask you about wearing masks. I know that some organizations and individuals have signed on to formal requests for mandated masks. Have you done anything like that?
Nurse Lorne: Yeah, that's such a great question. And you know, I think that the main thing that pops up for me as a public health nurse, working with communicable diseases is that there is no one community mitigation measure that's perfect. So the implication for the team here, is that we really need to continue thinking about how can we layer all community mitigation measures in order to position us in the best way possible to prevent the spread. And so I kind of think of community mitigation measures in terms of four main categories in the end, this is a CDC framework and one is promote all the behaviors that prevent the spread, the second is maintain healthy environments in such a way that it prevents the spread, maintaining healthy operations is the third and the last one is prepare for when folks do get sick with COVID.
KBBI: Thanks Nurse Lorne Carroll from Department of Health and Social Services and the Homer Public Health Center. Derotha Ferraro, I know that you have the ability at South Peninsula Hospital to mandate masks within your hospital. You have done that, correct?
Derotha: We have. We have universal masking in place. So all employees, all visitors and patients are required to have a mask or a face cover on. And I will say that while we were talking, the state did release a press release about a new product, if you will. It is a web hub for business toolkit and, while we were on line, I looked at it and there's a lot of great resources on there for businesses to help promote everything Lorne just said, all of the different strategies, mitigation strategies, not just masks. So I will certainly put that on our website. I'm sure the city will too, but it's a great toolkit for businesses to be able to voluntarily get the entire community to beat this, cause we can, we can voluntarily do all of this.
KBBI: Thanks Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. Also Pegge from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Nurse Lorne Carroll, and Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer. This has been the COVID-19 Thursday live brief. Thank you for your questions. Thank you to the panelists. I'm Kathleen Gustafson.