The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska is rapidly rising, just at the time that the City of Homer's emergency order is set to expire. According to Homer Mayor, Ken Castner, Governor Dunleavy told a meeting of mayors on Thursday, October 22, that he intends to let the State's emergency order expire on November 15. Since that call, Alaska case counts have escalated and Governor Dunleavy is scheduled to make a public statement Tuesday afternoon.
At Monday night's Homer City Council meeting, the Council acted to extend the City's emergency order until December 31, 2020, keeping the City's COVID Incident Command Team together until the end of the year. Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll led the COVID Incident Command Team's regular report to council.
"The virus is more easily spread from person to person than seasonal influenza," said Carroll, " There are more deaths and hospitalizations because there is no vaccine for COVID. That leaves us with community mitigation measures that would prevent the spread of the virus from one person to the next." In response to the elevated case councts, South Peninsula Hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro says the hospital has closed long term care facilities to in-person visitors and restricted all visitors after 6 p.m. The hospital is limiting visitors to other hospital patients and completely restricting them to COVID patients, although there are currently no COVID patients hospitalized at SPH.
"We do not have any employees here at the hospital out with COVID, but we do have a few employees quarantining at home due to close contacts with known positives. As case counts increase in the community, I think we're all probably experiencing that either with folks we know or through workforce, etcetera," Ferraro said.
In the last two weeks, SPH has conducted 988 tests. 22 of those tests came back positive for a positivity rate of 2.2%.
Both Ferraro and Nurse Carroll encouraged people to get a seasonal flu shot. Seldovia Village Tribe Health Center is administering free flu shots today, Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the parking lot of the Homer United Methodist Church on East Road at Homer High School. No appointment is necessary. This Saturday, October 31, SPH will be giving free flu shots at it's testing location at 4201 Bartlett Street. CARES Act administrator, Sara Perman and Communications coordinator, Jenny Carroll reported to Council on the status of the City's economic relief grant programs. The Household Relief grant period is closed with 238 applications received, seven were denied and 15 are still pending for a $340,000 outlay, leaving 1.1 million dollars left in the fund. Round two of the nonprofit grant program is underway. Communications coordinator Jenny Carroll said this is week two of the application period.
"Jody has received 128 applications. Of those, 114 were SBerg 1 recipients. There were 14 new applicants. Of the 83 that she's been able to approve to date, the spending is just about 1.1 million. Should the awards be given out to the requests that have come in based on applicants to date, we're looking at one point seven nine million," said Carroll.
The council appropriated $230,000 for South Peninsula Behavioral Health Center for COVID Relief, and almost $35,000 to the Homer Community Chest, through the Homer Foundation to combat homelessness in the community.
They also funded relief programs, set to start in November: $763,200 for rent and mortgage relief and 1.3 million dollars for a local fishermen's relief fund.
And, the council added Fireweed Academy and Kachemak Bay Campus to their list of possible Closeout Fund recipients. The Closeout Fund will allow for undistributed CARES Act funds to go to a list of COVID-related projects not funded through the grant programs.
For information about ongoing and upcoming CARES Act grants,go the City's page at cityofhomer-ak.gov.