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Borough COVID response shifting to future planning

KPE OEM

As the COVID-19 pandemic has stabilized in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Office of Emergency Management has shifted from response to mitigation and planning for the future.

OEM Director Dan Nelson briefed the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday night. Back in February and March, OEM focused on contingency planning.

“Specifically around health care facilities. Remember, we were seeing models at that time that this may overwhelm our local hospitals and health care faculties, what we would call patient surge, so what that looked like,” Nelson said. “What kind of contingency plans for response should we have another incident that occurred, a natural disaster, let’s say, during COVID. And many, many other plans.”

Luckily, the peninsula wasn’t hit with a fire or earthquake amid COVID. The infection curve flattened and a patient surge did not occur. But OEM still keeps a daily eye on the numbers and has twice-weekly check-ins with hospitals, cities and other entities. Part of OEM’s job once a disaster declaration has been issued is to obtain resources and getting them where they’re needed. During COVID, that means testing supplies and personal protective equipment.

“In a typical incident that we would manage, we usually have 50 or less of these resource requests. I looked this morning, we are at 312,” Nelson said. “And this is something that is not just a one-time thing. We have some great folks that have worked to track that and got those things to the places they’re needed all across the borough. So the logistics piece of that is a response that’s going on still to this day.”

OEM also keeps the public informed. Not with daily briefings anymore, as they were doing in the spring, but they still provide regular updates.

With the help of CARES Act funds, the borough is undertaking mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes daily tasks, like increased sanitation, and bigger projects.

“Air purification and other things that go into building HVAC systems, to the assembly chambers, is a great example — retrofitting that so we’re able to have both in-person and virtual participation. Backups to our 911 center, looking at some of our other public safety things. All of those mitigation things, what some call the new normal,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the peninsula’s COVID numbers are improving.

“As of today, this morning, we didn’t have anyone in our hospitals throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough that was a positive COVID-19 case or one that was suspected. And that’s certainly something that is to celebrate. And we’ve seen some of our numbers flatten out a bit as we look at our counts here from the last few days,” Nelson said. “We did have, absolutely, in the central peninsula, some high days of 12 or 15. Now we’re at two or three. That’s a great thing that we definitely want to keep and want the public to help us engage in doing those types of things.”

That, of course, means encouraging people to wear masks when close to others, disinfecting hands and commonly touched surfaces and maintaining social distancing. Nelson says the borough prefers education to enforcement.

“We don’t have that authority, nor will we be entertaining mandates,” Nelson said. “We want people to make good choices and help their friends and neighbors out. Because I think that is really the spirit of the Kenai Peninsula and our community.”

Looking ahead, Nelson anticipates there will eventually be a COVID-19 vaccine. OEM is working on plans for distribution.

To keep up with OEM and the latest with COVID-19 on the peninsula, visit KPB Alerts on Facebook, check out kpboem.com or covid19.kpb.us.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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