7 p.m. update: Another positive case in Sterling was announced Monday evening.
The central Kenai Peninsula now has confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Manager Dan Nelson announced Saturday that a case had been confirmed in Soldotna and one in Sterling.
The individuals are self-isolating at home. No further information was available over the weekend. As Nelson says, it’s not the borough’s place to share private health information.
“HIPPA laws, patient privacy laws, are certainly contributing to that. It’s not the borough’s or anybody else’s prerogative to share somebody’s medical history or medical issues in a public forum. You probably wouldn’t want that if it’s your history. So we aren’t doing that,” Nelson said.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services handles the tracking and reporting of positive cases. Nelson says it’s an involved process.
“They’ll get that information and then they go through a protocol of notification,” he said. “So, notifying that person’s health care provider. (And), of course, the patient. And then they’re going through a fairly extensive process on surveillance and contact tracking. So, essentially, those health professionals are going to go and help the patient retrace their steps, try and rebuild their daily activities and then start to reach out to folks that may have had some sort of close contact.”
He also warns there is a lag time in being tested, sending it to the Lower 48 for processing and getting results back. That’s why it’s so important to self-isolate for even mild symptoms. If you’re concerned, call your health care provider and they will screen you over the phone to determine whether you should be tested for COVID-19. Nelson says it might be they start with other tests to rule out other causes for your illness.
“You may have other respiratory conditions or other things that they can test for, certainly more quickly and they may be able to test locally for it here before they refer you to a COVID test, which does have to go and have some turnaround time,” Nelson said.
With the virus continuing to spread in Alaska, communities are taking additional steps to prevent transmission. Anchorage issued an emergency hunker-down order Friday, asking residents to stay home except for essential errands or jobs in essential sectors. The order went into effect Sunday at 10 p.m. and extends through March 31.
Emergency Management in the Kenai Peninsula Borough recommends the same thing but doesn’t have the legal standing to issue such an order. KPB incorporated as a second-class borough with limited powers. The governor would have to issue a stay-home order for it to be in effect on the peninsula.
“The borough simply does not have authority to do a stay-put or shelter-in-place like, for instance, the municipality of Anchorage has done. That’s why we aren’t coming out and saying that. But we are consistently saying, and I’m going to say it in the strongest possible terms, what all our residents need to do right now is go home and stay there,” Nelson said.
The Office of Emergency Management does a live COVID-19 update at 7 p.m. daily on its Facebook Page, KPB Alerts. OEM also regularly posts updates on its website, kpboem.com.