Covid-19 Update with Kathleen Gustafson

Apr 16, 2020

Credit City of Homer

Each Thursday during the Covid-19 crisis KBBI brings you leaders from the Homer Emergency Operations Center to update us on the current status of the pandemic in Homer. It is hosted by Kathleen Gustafson.


KBBI: You are tuned to the Thursday morning COVID-19 brief. On the line from South Peninsula Hospital is Derotha Ferraro, Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer, Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll and Chief Kirko.

Good mornings were exchanged by everybody. 

KBBI: Chief Kirko I'm very interested in starting with you today and then we can talk for a little while and then we can let you off the line so you can go do whatever the many things that you have to do. 

Chief Kirko: Perfect. 

KBBI: So last week out East, someone flicked a cigarette, started a grass fire 30 foot by 30 foot and firefighters had to come and get it. I think this is a really good time to remind people about burn permits and about the danger of flicking your cigarettes right now. 

Chief Kirko: Yes, it is. It's absolutely the right time because things are, snow, as you said earlier, is going away really quick and there's a lot of dry grass that's visible, at least down at the low lying areas right now. For sure. And last week when that happened, we were, if you remember, we had nice clear, dry days and a day or two before that incident happened, we had, that was like Sunday and Saturday and even part of Monday, we had significant windy conditions. So everything just kind of, between the wind and the dry weather, it was the perfect storm for igniting lighter fuels, grass and leaves and things of that nature. So it was a cigarette that actually started that fire. So when you think, sometimes you think about that it's kinda hard to start a fire with cigarette butts, but when the conditions are just right, it'll definitely happen. 

KBBI: And it traveled very, very, very quickly in a short amount of time. And it is the right time to remind people that wildfire season starts May 1st. Is that right? 

Chief Kirko: That's correct. So we're going to see a wildfire season starts whenever it decides to start, basically, on that day, it started for us. We're starting to see, when you get into the spring conditions and there's some dry and exposed fuels, then obviously we have that, you know, point of startup. The thing to remember is, until everything gets green, we need to be a little bit safer about how we do things, you know, involving fire or sparks or anything like that. And then starting May 1st, there's going to be statewide restrictions. There will be no permits issued from the state standpoint and from a city standpoint after May 1st, you will still have the ability to have cooking fires and warming fires. 

KBBI: Okay. It will not be a burn ban. It's just going to be a suspension of the burn permits. Okay. And with that starting up, I mean, it's just something that none of us need right now. There's so much going on. Is there anything else on your list to deliver to people? You know, I have this, I feel like I have this false impression that what EMT and fire services are doing is mostly preparedness and that your workload has increased, but that's a false impression, isn't it? 

Chief Kirko: Yeah, the workload, the workload for us, on a day to day basis is staying the same and it just depends on the type of season cause there's so much stuff that happens behind the scenes in the fire and EMS world. You know, obviously people when they see us out in ambulances and fire trucks on the roads that's when they say, Oh, Hey, there's the fire department, there's the EMS department, they're at work today, but there's so much stuff that goes into preparation and training and preparedness and hazard mitigation stuff. So we're trying to educate people on the safety hazards of the wild lands in the springtime season. So those are a lot of the things that we're consistently doing. Like now, even with COVID going on taking up much of our time to try to manage that, we still have to put our fire jobs and EMS jobs somewhere into that day and make sure that everything is still getting done. That we were doing before this little COVID crazy time started.

KBBI: Right. And is there anything else on your list for this morning? 

Chief Kirko: That was one of the calls we went on and, and I appreciate you bringing that to everybody's attention, how concerning that is. This time of year, it's a little early for that type of call, but here's the call we went on the other night where we, just two nights ago, went to a building that had a heater in a crawl space with an extension cord plugged into it. So this time of year, if your heaters are still plugged in and they're not on a thermostat, you really need to think about getting those unplugged because, you know, they're working real hard and they shouldn't really be plugged into a long extension cord anyway. That's not a safe thing to do. They should be directly into a wall with a circuit breaker so that you are using a wall outlet on a controlled circuit breaker. To help with that, because we came very, very close to losing a significantly large structure had that not been caught. 

KBBI: Well, thank you so much for the reminders and the information Chief Kirko. Is there anything else or we can let you get on with your very busy day? 

Chief Kirko: Nothing right at this moment, but, you know, to keep putting my COVID hat back on, just everybody continue to stay safe and keep that social distancing and I can keep on pounding it out there that this is not a sprint, it's a marathon, and we're all going to do the best we can to get through it together so, just keep the faith and keep strong. 

KBBI: Okay. Thanks. Chief Kirko from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department. So Lorne Carroll, Public Health Nurse, Extraordinaire, Good morning. I have a question for you that has arisen here at the station. So I read a ride line last night and today about a ride needed from Anchorage to Homer. I guess in my mind what I'm thinking is that it's possibly to people who are getting off a plane, who both need to quarantine, could share a ride, but is there any safe way to be sharing rides right now? What do you recommend? 

Lorne: Excellent question, Kathleen. Thanks. The safest of decisions right now would be to adhere as closely as possible to the mandates and so what I mean by that is, decrease all travel to only essential travel. And if you do have further questions about what do mandates mean for your situation, you've got a couple of options. You can call 211 or you can email  

KBBI: And do you have the numbers for us for the Kenai Peninsula today?

Lorne: Yeah, I do. I'll start with the lab and go wide. Labs, as of noon yesterday, 293 total cases, that’s up eight from yesterday. Up to this point, we have a grand total of 34 hospitalizations and 9 deaths to this point. Yesterday at noon we've had 106 recovered. That's an additional 8 recovered from the previous period. In Homer we're sitting at 2 still, and I'm real happy to announce 1 has recovered out of the 2. It's still just 1 in Anchor Point. 

KBBI: Okay. And what else is on your list for today? 

Lorne: I would just speak to, mandates are coming out every day and the mandate, and that was from yesterday, opens up some elective procedures so your best route to access those is, number one, call your provider and discuss access to care and secondly, if you have questions, look at them online. If you have internet access:   email: or give a call to 211. 

KBBI: Okay. Lorne, can you stay on the line? I'm going to call for, if anyone has any questions, they can call 235-7721 or they can email I'd like to go to Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. 

Derotha: Good morning, Kathleen. Okay. Well we have lots to report from the hospital, but I don't want to take all the time, so I'll just kind of start with some numbers. So as of this morning, the hospital has submitted 159 swabs to either the state or the Quest commercial lab for processing. Of the 159, one was positive. And that was the one from over two weeks ago. 123 were negative and we have 35 pending. 

KBBI: And what about the alternate testing sites? Are they open? 

Derotha: So it is still not open. We plan to open that as demand calls for it, but as of right now, we are still average only, and I'm going to use the word only, only averaging about 10 tests a day. 

KBBI: Those are tests that you're performing? How many are there people requesting tests who don't qualify? 

Derotha: I don't know that question. That's a good, good question. The reason I don't know that is because we're encouraging people to call their provider first. So I wouldn't know what happens between the person and their provider. If you don't have a provider, you can call the hospital triage nurse. 235-0235. And what happens when you call your provider, you share what's going on with you, you're sharing symptoms, and then based on your health history and your conditions and situation, then your provider says, you should go get tested for COVID 19. Now, things have changed a lot because those symptoms have really expanded. So I'm going to quickly go over those. So if everybody wants to pay attention, these are now the symptoms that are being considered for testing: cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, just one of those, or two from this very long list: fever, chills, diminished sense of smell or taste, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint aches, nausea, runny nose, phlegm production or sore throat. Those all sound familiar to people, so if you're having two of those symptoms, I just read, you could call your provider and be referred for testing. And I know that sounds a little backwards to what we were saying before, staying home and manage your symptoms. Yes. That's true from the perspective of going to the hospital for care, but the concept of testing is a really important step in helping the community and the state get a good picture of what's going on with COVID 19. If you have those symptoms, you can just call your provider, they'll send you for a test. You drive up to the hospital, you call that phone number on your way so we have somebody outside at the tent to greet you so you don't have to wait for a long time in your car. You never leave your car. You get the swab through the window and off you go. Additional testing, the more numbers of people you test, that gives you a much more accurate picture of the health of the community and it will also be informing the city's decisions about lifting restrictions or making recommendations. 

KBBI: So with that, I'm going to come back to you Derotha, but I want to go to Jenny Carroll from the city. Good morning. Hey, so what's on your list today? 

Jenny: Well, you made a nice segue that will be informing the city's decisions of how we go forward and I would say the city follows the state mandate so we are closely watching the mandates that are going to start ruling out from the governor's office. The governor is looking at easing business restrictions in a safe and measured manner so that industry and Alaskans can get back to work and we'll be seeing some of these announcements rolling out as we go forward. The reason that this is happening is that our economy is an important part of our response to COVID 19 and Alaskans are doing a really great job right now. Homer's doing a fantastic job at flattening the curve and social distancing, wearing the cloth face mask when you're out, limiting our travel and working from home. So they're looking at that and seeing that the Alaskan curve is kind of flattening out and the state is tracking and building up their PPE capacity, their ability to continue contact tracing of positive cases so that folks can quarantine and limit their exposures to others so we're not spreading the virus. And also the state is tracking the capacity of the health care facilities and they're looking at that very closely and going to be slowly opening up industry. The first one that Governor Dunleavy mentioned,  which Lorne mentioned earlier in the program today is they're going to start allowing non-essential health care procedures going forward, they're going to be opening that industry. They're trying to balance the negative outcomes that stem from us delaying our health care, our preventative healthcare, and at the same time, watching really closely so that we're protecting patients and health care workers from the spread of COVID 19 so the mandate specifies really specific safety precautions that service providers must follow to be able to open up. And if you want to read the specifics of that mandate, you can go to the website and read all the details. And the other thing that's been on a lot of people's minds, including in our port and harbor here, is what we're going to do as we go into the fishing season, the fisheries. Governor Dunleavy said in his press conference last night that the state is moving a plan forward to try to address opening fisheries, one of the backbones of the state's economy. So the Governor and his leadership are working with coastal communities, processors, independent fishing operations are filing plans on how they plan to limit exposure and spread of COVID 19 and so they're working a plan through to try to be able to open fisheries while still keeping people and communities safe. And I would say that the message in this is rather hopeful that we can start slowly and carefully rolling out some of our industries that have been shut down, but that we're all essential. All, each one of us is essential, hang off the social distancing, quarantine mandates so that we can really safely and gradually open up industries. If our caseloads start to spike, they will start, maybe not on a statewide level, is what the governor said, but in industry specific or area specific mandates to close back down again to be able to contain the Coronavirus spread. So my message to everyone is, there's a little bit of hope out there, but we're still in it for their long run that our new normal is to social distance, wear our face masks, quarantine as you're asked to do after travel, while you're getting a test. There are a lot of services in Homer available to help you quarantine.  You can go to the City of Homer website and find out all about those. That's what makes each one of us essential in this progress towards getting our industries and businesses open and running again. So that's my main message for today. 

KBBI: Well, I appreciate that because I'm hoping to build a coffee table next week about what it takes to revive an economy, the local economy, and to have discussions because there are lots of strategies for reviving the economy. There are no strategies for reviving someone who has died of COVID 19. So I definitely want to start turning our attention toward how to safely revive the economy in Homer. 

Jenny: Yes, and I would like to echo something that Derotha brought up too, is that testing is really critical so if you have any of those symptoms, that's the way we can follow potential cases, ask people to quarantine while they are getting the results of their tests so that we're not inadvertently spreading the virus. I think one of our messages early on because of how little we knew about the virus and how it presented, we were still building up testing supplies, that it was kind of limited. And now when you call your provider or you call the triage nurse at the hospital there, as Derotha explained, there's a lot more symptoms that go into deciding whether or not to be tested and the state would really like to lean on the testing to be able to track how we're doing relative to opening things up slowly and carefully. So I want to really repeat what Derotha said, any of those symptoms, please be in touch with your provider. Cause that's one of the ways we can know how we're doing. 

KBBI: Well, we will test, we will continue to run the Nurse Bonita Banks PSA on testing and on getting masks. South Peninsula Hospital, I want to go back to Derotha at South Peninsula Hospital but I do want to slightly switch the topic to the supply chain and to PPEs. We had a story last week about the possibility of using blanket warmers to sterilize masks. Is that on? Is that happening yet? 

Derotha: Well, it was happening. And now we no longer have to do that because we are so fortunate to have a unique Homer Alaska supply chain, which was donations from Homer Electric, the College, and Spenard Builders Supplies. Spenard Builders Supplies donated hundreds of extended wear respirators and when we got those, then we were no longer as obligated to figuring out who reuses, and this is specific to COVID 19 response. And so that really was a game changer for us. Having those three things, three local donations, was really a game changer for South Peninsula Hospital's response. And it means that we now don't have to rely on the reuse of your N 95 for four shifts, leaving them in brown paper bags and putting them in the blanket warmer. What a relief for our staff to have those great donations.

KBBI: Okay, thanks Derotha. I'm going to come back to you. Pegge Erkeneff from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is on the line. Good morning, Pegge, how's it going up there up the road for you? 

Pegge: It's good. I just got off a phone call hearing from Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan about talking to educators around the state about some of the different aid and that's coming and their talks about education so that was inspiring. They both were really supportive of everything our teachers are doing and our families are doing and working really hard to get us the resources that we need. So that was a good call to start the day with, with educational leaders all over the state. I don't know what your main topics are happening this morning for you, though. I've been a little bit immersed in cloth face masks. And our head nurse Iris and I made a funny, not funny, but just kind of scrappy video yesterday that just went out last night because I had some cloth face masks somebody made for me and I didn't know how to properly take them on and off. And when do you touch them? When do you not? So we just posted that on our social media and our YouTube channel. It's about five minutes, but there's some good tips in there about how to wear your face mask. I really appreciate all the nurses and especially our nursing supervisor, Iris has been amazing over the last month and a half with everything, getting information we need. And along those lines, I know that Homer has a supply chain of face masks, and I just heard from Kelly King who is in charge of our students in transition program, which is our students who are experiencing homelessness or families. And so I am going to put in a resource request because some of those students don't have access to face masks, cloth based masks. So I just learned that today, and that's in the Homer area, especially. 

KBBI: And do you have the number for calling for seeking masks in in bulk? I'm going to share it with everybody right now. That number is 399-3709 and you can always access that information at the City of Homer's webpage, click on the COVID 19 button. Also, in town, you can pick up masks at Cyclogical 302 East Pioneer Avenue from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday. And at Homer Saw and Cycle at 1532 Ocean Drive. They have a station set up outside where you can pick up masks if you need them, 24 hours a day. 

Pegge: I think what Homer has done, I heard that in a briefing a couple of weeks ago and the process is phenomenal. It really is. And they're already sterilized, so, right. They go to South Peninsula Hospital for that, right? So when somebody picks it up, it's ready to go. They don't need to do anything other than they have to sterilize it or wash them themselves after they're wearing them. So that was, that's been a little bit of focus in the last 36 hours. And then the other piece that's important for people to understand, and I'm sure Homer knows this, but I still get questions. Last week, the school year, it was announced by mandate that schools will be closed to students through the rest of the school year but that does not mean that we are not continuing with remote education. So there's been a lot of questions. Is school canceled for the rest of the school year. Is it over? Do I need to keep doing this remote learning thing? Yes, we are continuing to deliver remote learning through the end of the school year and it just meant that the buildings are closed to students through the end of the school year, not that education is stopping. And we are working with all of our principals that have any graduates in the class of 2020, to be able to plan what different graduations are going to look like. They'll still be special, but based on the physical distancing, they may not be like what we've had in past years. I also know that probably early next week, the commissioner of education did tell us yesterday that there would be guidance coming out from the state regarding graduation statewide. So they're working on what that might look like if they make some adjustments as everybody's doing a really good job with flattening the curve. 

KBBI: Thank you, Pegge. I have a question submitted online. I think it's for Derotha and possibly Lorne, is COVID testing free?

Derotha: So the answer's a touch complicated. It's free to the person, but the hospital is billing for it. So if the person is insured, then they will come up and they will still fill out a little bit of their normal registration paperwork and then we will bill the insurance company, whether it's Medicaid, Medicare, Blue Cross, whatever your insurance is, we will bill them because we can still get paid for the test. The insurance companies are all waving the copays or the patient part of it, so there wouldn't be a fee to the patient. If a patient's uninsured, then the hospital will have you fill out some different paperwork so that you'll go into a pot of self-pay and be eligible for  financial assistance, which we'll wave hopefully all, if not most of the patient parts. So we're trying to make it as definitely free or as absolutely low cost as possible. 

KBBI: Okay. Thanks so much for that. I want to get to everybody for final comments because we're coming on the end of this half hour. I know you guys have long, busy days with many meetings. Lorne Carroll from the State of Alaska, Nurse Lorne, do you have any thoughts to leave us with? 

Lorne: Hey, thanks, Kathleen. I would just say a couple things, there's some kind of hints of breakup out there and the weather's changing and that to me represents a lot of renewal, but also a lot of unknowns. And lastly, I want to say thanks to the fishing industry because those folks are already working with local public health nurses, local emergency operation centers and community partners across the state, and what they're doing is building plans aimed at decreasing potential spread of COVID and also to connect folks that may potentially get infection. So I just want to say a special thanks for protecting our future. 

KBBI: Well, Lorne, that's very interesting to me. I'm going to reach out to you and perhaps we can talk a little more at length about that. 

Lorne: I'd love to. Thanks Kathleen. 

KBBI: Okay, thanks Lorne Carroll. Next, how about the City of Homer? Jenny? 

Jenny: Okay. My last thought is while I was on the radio, I got a text from someone saying, what is this about social distance? We use the phrase physical distancing. And by all means, yes, what we mean by that, social distancing is to physically distance, so we're not spreading the virus. Social distance kind of got into the vocabulary as the catch phrase early on, but I want to encourage everyone to really stay socially connected with their family and friends, despite our mandates to physically distance, to work from home. We have a lot of technology. We have telephones to reach out and help support everybody through this challenging time, so please when I say social distancing I really mean physical distancing and hope that everybody can help support and feel supported when they need it through these changes that we're living through right now. 

KBBI: Okay. Jenny Carroll from the City of Homer and one last time, let's direct everybody to the City of Homer's webpage and the COVID 19 button because there is an enormous amount of information for people all on that page.

KBBI: How about Derotha, any final words? 

Derotha: Well, I just want to reiterate testing is available and the symptom list is very long. We have it all on the hospital's webpage and I will tell you that every morning I update the test numbers there and it's a helpful way to kind of feel connected to the community and what's going on in regards to COVID 19 so use that as a resource. And also on the hospitals webpage in the lower right corner, you'll see a presentation from Dr. Zink and chances are, if you're listening to this show right now, you want to be informed. Dr. Zink did a great presentation two nights ago on her 5:00 PM report on television to the state and it just really shows kind of what's going on with the spread around the state and how the state plays into the national numbers and it was a really good presentation. It's on the lower right corner of the homepage for the hospital

KBBI: Derotha Ferraro from South Peninsula Hospital. Thanks so much. And Pegge Erkeneff, anything final from you? 

Pegge: I have three fast things. We have launched this week, free webinars for parents to support remote learning for their children at home, and we had 50 parents sign up this week. There are about 30 minutes and we've got another slate of classes coming up next week, and those are on our website and you could go to or I'm sharing it on our social media sites. The second thing is a really big thank you to all of our educators. They are going above and beyond to continue reaching out and delivering education. So all of our staff, we're really proud of our staff. And the final thing is if there's anybody that needs assistance that is a child going to school that's experiencing homelessness, we've got an outreach program all throughout the district, but in the Homer area, Jane Dunn is the go to person for our homeless liaison. And her phone number is 235-4664, she serves the Southern Peninsula. So if there's anybody, any students who are experiencing homelessness or families that have students, and they want to keep those kids in school and learning we're there for them.

KBBI: Okay. Thanks so much, Pegge Erkeneff and we'll check in soon. And that is the COVID brief for this Thursday, April 16th. I'm Kathleen Gustafson. We'll have some information. I'll be reading, closures and things that you actually can do right now also. But first, a little something from South Peninsula Hospital’s, Bonita Banks, take it away.

Nurse Banks: Have you found or created your cloth face covering yet? If not, now is the time. People who are asymptomatic or have not yet developed symptoms of COVID 19 can still spread the virus. So cover your nose and mouth to protect those around you. And when others use cloth face coverings, they are protecting you. Wear a cloth mask if you must leave home and will be indoors where it may be difficult to maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Enjoying outside activities? Great. But when you exert yourself, coughs and sneezes may travel farther so use a face covering if you'll be within 20 feet of others. Use safe mask hygiene. Don't touch the outside layer and touch only the ties or elastic loops when removing. Then wash your hands right away. Launder the mask in hot soapy water. For local information go to  Let's continue to work together to slow the spread of COVID 19 this is Bonita Banks, Community Education Nurse at South Peninsula Hospital.

KBBI: You can pick up a mask or two at Cyclogical, 302 East Pioneer Avenue next to the Homer Bookstore, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM also at Homer Saw and Cycle on Ocean Drive. They have a pickup station outside of their business, so you can pick up masks anytime.