Virus surging again on peninsula, nationwide

Jul 19, 2021

Harrison Deveer prepares a dose of the vaccine for Tyler Smith at Nikiski Fire Department Station One in December
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

The current surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide is powered in part by a more contagious strain of the virus. But health officials are recommending more of the same.

"Get vaccinated, wear a mask, stay away from large gatherings," said Kenai Public Health Nurse Tami Marsters. "Just the same that nobody wants to hear.”

The peninsula is again on what the state considers a high alert level for the virus, with 53 new cases reported between Friday and Saturday. That’s the first time it’s been on that level in several months.

Cases are rising nationally, too. Health experts say that’s because of the more contagious delta variant.

Martsers said that’s part of the problem locally. Also, "part is due to the influx of people that we have coming in," she said. "And a lot of it is due to people that aren’t getting vaccinated.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has some of the lowest vaccination numbers in Alaska.

Forty-four percent of eligible residents on the Kenai Peninsula are now fully vaccinated against the virus. That’s on par with the rate in the Fairbanks Borough and a bit higher than the rate in the Mat-Su Borough.

Meanwhile, tourists are still pouring into the area from all over the world. The state reported 11 non-resident cases in the last two weeks.

Marsters said anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms ― even ones that seem insignificant ― should get tested.

"And a lot of people unfortunately aren’t getting tested because they just know they have it, or they think it’s allergies," she said. "So then it just gets spread really easily from there.”

The vast majority of cases statewide are among unvaccinated Alaskans. But as of July 10, the state had reported over 750 vaccine breakthrough cases ― COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people. Three percent of all cases in Alaska and two percent of all deaths were among people who were fully vaccinated.

Health agencies have taken different stances on whether vaccinated people should still wear masks indoors. Marsters said she’s vaccinated ― but still recommends wearing a mask in some cases.

“I can tell you what I’m doing," she said. "If I’m going to a place where there’s a lot of people, say for instance Fred Meyer yesterday — that was just wall-to-wall — I’m wearing a mask. I’m pretty much staying away from big gatherings. But if I am around a lot of people, I’m going to wear a mask.”

Hospital spokesperson Bruce Richards said the hospital was seeing three patients with COVID-19 as of Monday morning. Positive cases among staff members at Heritage Place, including one vaccinated staff member, triggered a closure of the eldercare facility last week.