In a week where Alaska saw its 400th death from COVID-19, a flurry of social media posts announcing closures at Homer restaurants and businesses confirmed the worst: COVID-19 cases continue to surge through the Southern Kenai Peninsula. At least seven businesses announced one-day or longer closures because of concerns over COVID-19, including the Homer News. Other restaurants announced going back from in-house dining to curbside pickup or take-out.
“Homer has done so well, and now to have more outbreaks than we had ever before makes it a little nerve wracking, to say the least,” said NOMAR owner Kate Mitchell, one of the businesses affected by COVID-19 concerns.
Closures announced were:
• Alice’s Champagne Palace on Sunday announced three employees tested positive for COVID-19 and said it would be closed through Aug. 24. Pizza Underground, located at Alice’s, will offer take-out meals only.
• AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse on Sunday announced one key staff member tested positive and it would be closed until Friday. “We will err on the side of caution and close until everyone can be tested and ensure our team is healthy,” the restaurant wrote on its Facebook page.
• Fat Olives on Monday said it closed for day to get its crew tested for COVID-19.
• Sweetgale Meadworks & Cider House announced on Monday it was closing temporarily because of a positive COVID-19 test result among staff.
• Duncan House Diner closed for a week, owner Katie Jo Gamble reported in the COVID-safe Kenai Peninsula Facebook page. Everyone tested negative, but some vaccinated crew were identified as close contacts of positive cases. “We still feel the right thing to do is to close and retest again in a week to ensure it’s safe,” she wrote.
• NOMAR closed on Monday because of a positive test result for one employee, owner Kate Mitchell said in a phone call on Tuesday. Staff got tested and the store reopened on Tuesday. Mitchell said no other employees had been in close contact with the affected employee.
“We had a one-day stand down,” Mitchell said. “That seemed to be the appropriate way to handle things.”
• After a close contact of an employee at the Homer News tested positive, the paper announced Wednesday it would close the office to the general public until Aug. 27.
To help businesses better understand how to respond to COVID-19 if staff test positive, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will hold a Zoom session from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23.
“I really do sense the need for that extra support in our community,” said Homer Public Health Nurse Mary Darbonne. “…As more businesses are affected, it can be a lot to navigate and be confusing.”
Long lines at a pop-up testing clinic in the Homer Public Library showed the intensity of community concern over testing. Run by Capstone Clinic, the rapid testing continues from noon-7:30 p.m. today and noon-4 p.m. Friday.
The Ninilchik Tribal Council Mobile Community Health Clinic also offers testing and vaccines from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday in Anchor Point at 33935 Sterling Highway next to the Cheeky Moose laundromat.
The southern Kenai Peninsula continues to see positive COVID-19 cases, with 120 reported on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard for the period of Aug. 10 through Aug. 16. Homer had 92 cases, Anchor Point had 18 and the Kenai Peninsula Borough-South had 10. There also were three nonresident cases tested in Homer.
A data recording lag on the DHSS dashboard has been adjusted, with numbers reported by the state consistent with test results done at South Peninsula Hospital.
Most of the cases come from people gathering indoors in small groups and in close contact, Darbonne said.
Mitchell noted a dilemma for small businesses. With the tight work force, managers can’t risk forcing people to get vaccinated.
“We don’t want to lose people over it,” Mitchell said. “I wish they would do the adult thing.”
Darbonne said Public Health appreciates the effort local businesses are making to keep open while protecting the public.
“We’re here to support our community in the best ways possible,” she said. “I’m thankful for what folks are doing to mitigate COVID. We don’t want our businesses to shut. It’s respectful for them to take into consideration and protect their community as well.”
For the week of Aug. 11-17, the hospital reported 993 test samples collected, with 95 positive — a 10% positivity rate. For that same period, the hospital reported 15 visits to the emergency department, seven hospitalizations, 25 outpatient monoclonal antibody infusions and 83 vaccines administered, according to an email Wednesday from SPH Public Information Officer and Marketing Director Derotha Ferraro.
On last Friday alone there were six hospitalizations, Ferraro said. The hospital has eight negative-pressure rooms for COVID-19 patients with up to two beds in each room, for a total of 16 possible beds. No one has yet had to double up in a room, however, Ferraro wrote. Six rooms were installed after the start of the pandemic. It also has a negative pressure room in the emergency department for incoming COVID-19 patients. The hospital has two intensive-care unit rooms and seven ventilators on site. None of the COVID-19 patients have been on ventilators.
According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s COVID-19 information hub, there are 14 patients on the peninsula hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with eight ICU beds occupied and three available. There are 40 non-ICU beds occupied and 38 available. There are three ventilators used with 17 available.
As of Tuesday, the peninsula had 5,680 total cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
As of Tuesday, all but four of 24 census regions in the state are categorized as high alert status. Statewide, the alert level is 288.8 per 100,000 people for the past seven days. DHSS now uses a four-tier alert system. According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, all three areas of the peninsula were in high alert status, with 233 cases for the central peninsula over the last seven days, 131 cases for the southern peninsula over the last seven days and 47 cases for the eastern peninsula over the last seven days. The school district has revised its dashboard to fit the four-tier state system and reports cases over seven days, also to match the state system.
Homer’s cases per 100,000 people per day over the past 14 days was 935 people.
Statewide, there are now 77,774 resident positive cases and 3,563 nonresident cases; 1,858 hospitalizations, with 132 currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 15 on ventilators; and 400 resident deaths. Five deaths of Alaskans have been reported in the last week, including one Anchorage woman in her 20s.
The state’s vaccination rate still hasn’t budged much in the recent weeks amid the new wave of COVID cases. As of Tuesday, the state reported 59.3% of Alaska residents 12 years and older had received at least one dose of vaccine. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 45.4% were fully vaccinated.
On the southern peninsula, the Homer area — including the city of Homer, Diamond Ridge and Fritz Creek — had a fully vaccinated rate of 59.4% and a one-dose rate of 64.3%. Anchor Point had a fully vaccinated rate of 39% and a one-dose rate of 41.80%, while the other peninsula south area had a fully vaccinated rate of 20.5% and a one-dose rate of 22%.
According to the DHSS weekle COVID-19 report, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 7, 92% of all cases were unvaccinated, 94% of all hospitalizations were unvaccinated and 96% of all deaths were unvaccinated. For vaccine breakthrough cases — positive results for people two weeks beyond their final vaccine dose — there were four deaths, 41 hospitalizations and 2,314 positive cases. In that time period there have been 101 deaths and 641 hospitalizations reported.
SPH sends test to Beechwood Diagnostics in Anchorage, with a longer response period. It reserves the faster Cepheid test for in-hospital or emergency department use.
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
Capstone Clinic offers rapid tests in a pop-up clinic from noon-7:30 p.m. today and noon-4 p.m. Friday at the Homer Public Library.
Testing is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the SPH COVID-19 clinic on Bartlett Street for people with symptoms, traveling, for pre-procedure screening and for exposure six days after exposure of after being at social gatherings.
Where to get vaccinated
South Peninsula Hospital continues to offer walk-in vaccines daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4201 Bartlett Street, and by appointment at www.sphosp.org. Vaccines also are offered by appointment at Homer Medical Clinic and the SPH Family Care Clinic. For more information at the Bartlett Street clinic, talk to your doctor or call 235-0235 for additional information. To make appointments at Homer Medical Center, call 235-8586. To make appointments at the South Peninsula Family Care Clinic, call 235-0900. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are offered, with Moderna only on Fridays at the Bartlett Street clinic. The clinic currently is out of the ohnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines.
Safeway – Homer, 90 Sterling Highway, offers clinics 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday by appointment or walk-ins. Call 226-1060 for appointments. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are offered.
Kachemak Medical Group, 4129 Bartlett Street, offers vaccines by appointment. Call 235-7000.
Ulmer’s Pharmacy, 3858 Lake Street, offers Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment of walk-ins. Call 235-7760.
Ninilchik Clinic, 15765 Kingsley Road, Ninilchik offers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment and Pfizer on demand. Call 907-567-3970.
SVT Health & Wellness offers Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Moderna vaccines for established medical patients of the three SVT Health & Wellness locations: 880 East End Road, Homer (226-2228); 72351 Milo Fritz Ave., Anchor Point (226-2238), and 206 Main Street, Seldovia (907-435-3262).
Reach Michael Armstrong at [email protected]