COVID-19

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

For most of us, COVID has meant life, work and social interruptions, logistical hurdles, stress, cumulative days lost to Zoom meetings and, hopefully, physically, nothing more than temporary flu symptoms. But for some of our family, friends and neighbors, a struggle with COVID has been life or death.
That was the case for Roger and Jodi Helvie, of Soldotna. Eleven months after coming down with COVID, they're finally on the other side, getting back to life in their new normal.
Thanks to the Helvies for sharing their story.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Soldotna's Roger and Jodi Helvie aren't taking any part of life for granted, after a harrowing experience with COVID-19.

You can hear more about Roger and Jodi's experience on next week’s Kenai Conversation at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, rebroadcast at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, on KDLL.

KPBSD

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is considering changing how it evaluates contact tracing in its COVID mitigation plan to allow more kids to stay in school.

The Board of Education held a work session Monday to discuss alternatives. In the board meeting Monday night, superintendent Clayton Holland said the district is trying to keep kids in school as much as possible.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Econ 919 — Zoom town

Sep 3, 2021
Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

Working from home became the order of the day for many workers last March.

Since then, cities and states around the U.S. have tried to market themselves to remote workers — and their wallets.


Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Aaron Bolton/KBBI

The Kenai Peninsula Borough spent the winter sharing updated information about the coronavirus and resources for getting vaccinated.

Now, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is using his platform to challenge local doctors and promote unproven COVID-19 treatments, on local talk radio and in public meetings.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

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.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Soldotna Public Library, Soldotna Regional Sports Complex and other city buildings will require face masks starting Monday morning, as COVID-19 case counts continue to climb locally.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Researchers and the Cooperative Extension Service want to know how the pandemic and the 2019 Swan Lake Fire impacted food resilience on the Kenai Peninsula.

Courtney Long is a PhD student at Iowa State University. She said the study on the peninsula is one of five she’s conducting in rural communities across the country. 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Eva Knutson calls some of her boxes “boredom busters.” They look like they’d do the job, with topics like entomology, forensic science, and oceanography. They’re designed with instructions from start to finish, so parents can just unbox them and enjoy them with their kids, even if they don’t know much about entomology themselves.

 

"Everything is kind of spelled out in the materials, so if a parent gets 'entomology' and they don’t know anything about insects, all the printables have facts, all the information, so if a parent wants to teach their kid about spiders and insects, they can," she said. "Even if they don’t know anything about it, they get to be the teacher, which I really like, because I really like tht parents appreciate that."

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

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.”

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted just about everything, including food shipments to grocery stores all over Alaska. Last year, Alaskans really felt it, with some products just not available.

Alaska depends on shipments for about 95 percent of its food, which makes the state fragile when those supply lines are interrupted. Reportedly, interest in local food has grown during the pandemic as well—good news for the Kenai Peninsula, which was home to more than 250 farms in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers and local food advocates have stood on that fact to push for more in-state food production support and infrastructure, and with the pandemic highlighting food insecurity, they are taking the opportunity to push for broader changes.

City of Kenai

Tourism took a serious hit last year worldwide, with travel restricted and people staying home. The Kenai Peninsula got a little bump from in-state travel traffic, but overall, it was still a pretty quiet year here, and many tourism businesses received aid through local programs supported by federal relief funds last summer and fall.

However, in Kenai, the city council thinks the tourism industry has recovered enough where they don’t need help anymore.

KBBI

The way the state counts COVID-19 vaccinations is changing to be more accurate, but it means the percentage of vaccinated people reported in Homer will go down sharply.

Currently, the state reports that 79 percent of people in Homer have received at least one vaccine. But starting Wednesday, that number will go down to 61 percent. That’s because the state is changing its population data to include the surrounding area of Fritz Creek.

Kenai Watershed Forum

Summer camps this year are getting a little help from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services in the form of one-time grants. The Alaska Community Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation are helping to administer the program, which sent out about $1.26 million in aid last week to various camp programs all over the state.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

The western Kenai Peninsula is car territory. Even for locals, a car is pretty necessary to run most errands or to take part in most fishing, kayaking or hiking trails in the area. That’s the case for tourists, too, particularly those who fly here and want to explore the state on their own.

Unfortunately, this year, rental cars are thin on the ground. Really thin.


Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

In Ohio, there’s a vaccine lottery. Kristy Kreme’s doling out free donuts.

In Alaska, Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort is promising a free day-of lift ticket to anyone who comes to it’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic this Sunday.

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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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