The COVID Incident Command Team made their regular report to Homer City Council Monday night amid rising case counts across the state and the switch to remote learning at McNeil Canyon Elementary School. Schools in Seward and Moose Pass are already all 100% remote learning and Central Peninsula schools are preparing to switch to remote learning if case counts rise. Derotha Ferraro, spokesperson for South Peninsula Hospital says that their testing has identified ten positive cases in Homer in the last ten days, one of them, an employee of the hospital.
Ferraro said, "Last Wed, we also loosened visitation restrictions in long term care. Several residents has in-person visitors last week. However, as part of being open, we have routine staff testing and in doing so, an employee with no symptoms tested postitve on Saturday. The employee is quarantined at home."
Ferraro says that all residents and staff were subsequesntly tested and will have a second test at the end of the week. SPH has again restricted visitation at the hospital for long-term care residents.
Mayor Ken Castner asked about the length of time it takes to get test results. Ferraro acknowledged that SPH's testing is taking several days to yield results. She says it is because of the rapid rise in cases in Alaska, and the fact that SPH does not have the facilities to process all their tests in-house.
"We would have to ramp up by triple or quadruple the staff to run all of those. And so the majority of our swabs do go up to the state for processing and because of the drive time and the back up at the state lab, the turnaround time is painfully slow," said Ferraro.
Public Information Officer Jenny Carroll reported on the City's Economic Recovery Grants Program. Nonprofit, child care and social services funding periods have closed. 35 applicants from nonprofits qualified for $323,000 out of $750,000 allocated to the program. The child care program had four applicants and $75,000 awarded out of $150,000 allocated. Social services funding went to nine applicants for a total of almost $150,000 out of $200,000 allocated. Carroll said the Rasmussen Foundation has agreed to provide matching funds for all City money awarded to arts and cultural organizations through the nonprofit grant program and reminded council that the household grant application period closes this Friday. So far, the City has recieved 95 applications. Sara Perman is processing and reviewing applications and so far has been able to approve 76 of them.
"She's only denied one application and that was because the application was from outside city limits. Right now, there is a total of $112,000 dollars and change awarded out of the 1.5 million that was allocated to that program," said Carroll.
She said that Perman is working with applicants to find eligible expenses for the program. Council worked for much of the meeting on COVID relief projects and funding, introducing and holding readings on ordinances to allocate $200.000 from the general fund to South Peninsula Behavioral Services, and about $34,000 to The Homer Foundation for the purpose of contributing to relief for homeless services in Homer. The Council also started work on the next round of economic relief funding, allocating 1.3 million dollars to a fishermens' relief fund. The council and mayor expressed a need for feedback from fishermen while the program is under development. Here's Councilmember Donna Aderhold.
" I would very much like to hear from commercial fishermen. This is my plea to reach out to council members with any of your thoughts and comments on any of the CARES Act coming before council."
A public hearing on the program is scheduled for the October 26th meeting.And, an upcoming mortgage and rent assistance grant program got a boost last night. Councilmember Joey Evensen successfully moved to raise the city's appropriation amount from $339,000 distributed over 4 months to $763,000 distributed over 6 months. Late in the meeting, Mayor Castner reminded the council that the State of Alaska's state of emergency order is about to expire. Castner says that does not affect the City's state of emergency declaration.
" We're unsure what the governor is going to do , whether or not he's going to extend it. It doesn't mean that the virus is gone and it doesn't mean that our emergency order is going to stop being in effect. We're going to have to take that up again. This is not a time to let down our guard, obviously we can see how easily it can spread. So, please be careful," Mayor Castner said.
The City of Homer's COVID-19 Incident Command Team will take your questions on KBBI, live, on Thursday at 9 a.m. on their regular, weekly, COVID-19 Brief. You can call in during the show or email your questions ahead of time to firstname.lastname@example.org.