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A 68-year-old man incarcerated at Wildwood Correctional Center died last week — the fifth COVID-19-related death at Central Peninsula Hospital this month.

The Department of Corrections said Monday the man, John Andrew, died Friday after being in custody for a decade. The department said Andrew’s was the ninth death in its custody this year.

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Over half of all beds at Central Peninsula Hospital are now occupied by COVID-19 patients and the hospital is almost a third overcapacity, said hospital spokesperson Bruce Richards.

Richards said Tuesday the strain pushed the hospital to cancel all in-patient elective surgeries for at least two days. CPH is holding some patients in the emergency room overnight for lack of space.

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Local and national medical experts have recommended universal masking in schools to prevent the spread of the contagious Delta variant.

But the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced at a work session today it’s sticking to its policy of recommended masking districtwide and instead considering temporary mask mandates at individual schools depending on how those schools are impacted by COVID-19.

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Most mornings, a line of cars snakes from the front of Capstone Clinic in Kenai, past McDonalds, spilling out onto the residential Walker Lane.

Clinics like Capstone have been seeing a growing number of people coming in for COVID-19 tests as the Delta variant has tightened its grip on the state.

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A Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting turned into a debate about the coronavirus last night, when a resolution condemning vaccine mandates generated hours of conversation about unproven COVID-19 treatments and took the meeting right up to its 11:30 p.m. automatic end time.

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UPDATE, 6 p.m. Tuesday:

Starting Wednesday, Seward Middle School, Seward High School and Moose Pass School will join Seward Elementary in requiring masking for all students and staff, at least until Sept. 10.

The Susan B. English, Port Graham and Tebughna schools are all also requiring face coverings at this time. There is no district-wide mask mandate in place.

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Central Peninsula Hospital sends some of its worst trauma cases up to Anchorage.

The hospital is still sending some patients on a case-by-case basis, hospital spokesperson Bruce Richards said. But as Anchorage facilities are filling up, it’s getting harder to find beds.

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President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that nursing homes receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments must require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to continue receiving those funds. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are crafting the regulations, which could go into effect as soon as next month. 

That means staff at Heritage Place in Soldotna, operated by Central Peninsula Hospital, will be subject to the requirement, as the vast majority of the nursing home’s income is in the form of Medicaid payments.

“Ninety-four percent. It’s a big deal,” said Bruce Richards, director of external affairs for the hospital. 

Most of that 94 percent is Medicaid payments, will a small amount of Medicare. The remaining 6 percent is from private insurance and a small amount of self-pay.

Given that, Richards said they have to comply.

“I don’t think there’s another option,” he said. “We would have to close, obviously, if we don’t get paid by CMS for providing these services.”

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Tuesday is the first day of school in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. For many families and staff, the usual first-day jitters are accompanied by deep concerns about rising coronavirus case numbers on the Kenai Peninsula.

The district is starting the school year with a new COVID-19 mitigation plan. Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said they’ll handle cases of potential exposure to the virus a little differently than they did last year.

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Face masks will not be required in Kenai Peninsula Borough schools when classes start up again this month — contrary to new recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that schools universally require masks amid the more contagious Delta variant.

The mask policy is part of the district’s new COVID-19 mitigation plan for the upcoming school year.

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Outside the walls of Central Peninsula Hospital, in local parks, restaurants and bars, life is going on without masks or social distancing.

But the coronavirus spike inside the hospital shows the virus is hardly a thing of the past.

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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.”

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

There have been a lot of “help wanted” signs in store windows this spring. The Kenai Peninsula, like the rest of the country, is facing a worker shortage, with too many job openings and not enough applicants.

It’s impacted Shelly Endsley, who owns the Orca Theater on Kalifornsky Beach Road. 

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Getting a coronavirus vaccine on the Kenai Peninsula nowadays is a little like ordering a pizza. You can get it delivered to your house, at a music festival with friends, or you can call ahead.

Now, you can also walk in and get it when you want it. Soldotna Professional Pharmacy is operating a new walk-in clinic in Soldotna on the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kenai Spur.

It’s prime real estate, and pretty hard to miss from the road. It’s also Anne Zink-approved.

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The University of Alaska Anchorage is reopening its campuses this fall, including the Homer and Soldotna campuses of Kenai Peninsula College.

Both campuses have been quiet since March 2020, when the college moved the vast majority of its classes online and closed its buildings to the public. Those rules are now set to expire Aug. 2. The first day of classes is Aug. 23.

All communities on the Kenai Peninsula rely on tourism to some extent. But Seward relies more on the cruise industry, which has largely been on pause during the pandemic. The hit was reflected in Seward's sales tax revenue, which dipped almost 35 percent from 2019 to 2020.

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Heritage Place is closed to visitors again after several unvaccinated staff and residents tested positive for the coronavirus.

Residents at the hospital-owned elder care facility suffered through a COVID-19 outbreak last fall that infected nearly all residents and killed four.

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With five weeks remaining before summer break, the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor is publicly challenging the school district on its COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

Mayor Charlie Pierce has long been an advocate of keeping mask-wearing a personal choice and opening the peninsula up to business as usual amid coronavirus-induced closures.

He turned his focus to the school district last week, saying in a Facebook post “The time has come for us to get rid of all Mask Mandates [sic] in schools.”

Photo: Redoubt Reporter

Imagine if you could catch a couple salmon and then get your coronavirus vaccine, all without even leaving the beach.

This summer, Kenai’s popular dip-net fisheries might also be public health hubs.

Almost a fifth of the $1.9 trillion in the newly approved American Rescue Plan is headed straight to state and local governments.

Most details about how that money will be distributed are still up in the air, said Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. His team helped distribute Alaska CARES funding last year.

He’s not sure whether KPEDD will be playing an official role in distribution this time around. But he says what he does know is cities and boroughs will likely start parsing through their funds next month.

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A third of all eligible adults in the Kenai Peninsula Borough have had at lease one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Almost 16,000 people in the borough have had one or more shot while 11,000 residents, or 24 percent of those eligible, are fully vaccinated, according to state data. Over half of Kenai Peninsula seniors — those over 65 — are vaccinated.

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Vaccinated residents of Heritage Place had just started reuniting with their families in person last week, some for the first time in a year.

That was until yesterday. A vaccinated staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and the hospital-owned eldercare facility has put visits on pause until it can test all its residents.

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Alaska has eliminated nearly all barriers to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, anyone who lives or works in the state and is 16 or older can get a dose.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink announced the update alongside Gov. Mike Dunleavy Tuesday evening — just three days shy of the one-year anniversary of Alaska’s first COVID-19 case.

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The disaster declaration for the Kenai Peninsula Borough is now extended through June. It means the borough can continue holding large-scale COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

That’s especially important now that the state has opened vaccine eligibility to a larger swath of the population. Starting today, those considered “essential workers,” Alaskans over 55 and people with conditions that put them at higher risk for contracting a severe case of COVID-19 are eligible to get their first doses.

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The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District vaccinated over 300 educators and support staff against COVID-19 Friday at clinics across the peninsula. 

Mountain View Elementary Principal Karl Kircher got his first dose at the Soldotna clinic. He was really excited about it.

City of Seward YouTube

Seward is no longer requiring masks in public buildings. Its city council voted to let its mask mandate expire Monday night.

The city has been the only one on the Kenai Peninsula to adopt a mask mandate during the pandemic. The mandate didn’t have teeth and there was no penalty for those who didn’t comply.


Starting tomorrow, Alaskans can apply for another round of rental assistance. 

Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is helping renters who are struggling to pay rent during the pandemic with up to 12 months of their rent and utilities.

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More Alaskans will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, starting tomorrow.

The state announced today it’s opening eligibility to frontline essential workers 50 and older, including grocery store employees and mail carriers, and people who live and work in congregate settings, like correctional facilities and group homes. Adults 50 and older with high-risk medical conditions are also included in this group and teachers of any age. That’s a new addition to the tier.

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Alaska's Gulf Coast region was down about 2,300 jobs in December compared to the year before, according to February data from the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Those numbers are relatively in line with the rest of the state, though each region has experienced the pandemic differently, said Karinne Wiebold, an economist with the state’s Department of Labor.

Dr. Kristin Mitchell, with Central Peninsula Internal Medicine, Justin Rufridge, co-owner of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, and Dan Nelson, manager of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, are here to discuss the COVID vaccine this week.