Kodiak’s number of active known COVID cases continues to climb, with numbers not seen since December.

The island saw a net increase of 14 positive cases on Friday, bringing the total active count to 143, up by one case from the previous day, according to the Kodiak Emergency Operations Center.

The marginal increase in active counts reflects the number of people who have completed self-quarantine or are no longer considered to be actively infectious.

The number of active COVID cases continues to be a major concern for Kodiak’s EOC and Emergency Services Council, according to City Manager Mike Tvenge, who serves as the emergency services director.

“We had two active cases in early June, and now we have 142,” Tvenge said at Thursday’s City Council meeting. “Please stay home if you’re sick.”

The continued rise in COVID numbers has prompted Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center to implement new visitor restrictions and suspend weekend blood collection and testing, according to a statement from the hospital.

According to Providence, the recent wave of COVID cases combined with low staffing levels led to the decision. Administrator Karl Hertz recently told the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly that the hospital has 85 open positions that represent about 55 full-time equivalents at both its counseling and medical centers. That is up from 44 open positions in March.

“The recent increase in COVID-19 cases and the need for testing in our community has placed additional demand on our caregivers,” said Hertz, in the statement.

Hertz said the hospital has moved its internal status level to “Orange,” which is “designed to increase COVID-19 tracking and observation in the hospital.”

While the increased status level doesn’t suspend normal services, it will impact visitations and some service time modifications “that allow hospital staff to continue providing the highest level of comprehensive care to the community.”

The new visitation restrictions begin immediately, according to the hospital. Visitors may be asked to wait in their vehicle before entering the hospital, depending on the number of patients in the waiting room.

Other visitation restrictions are in effect on the inpatient floor, mother-baby unit, the ICU and emergency department, but will fluctuate depending on the current patient load.

“Visitors are reminded to check in at the main desk for the latest visitation status before visiting family and friends,” Providence said in its statement. “Mandatory mask wear and social distancing remain in effect inside all (Providence) facilities.”

Kodiak’s last major wave of COVID infections, which began after Thanksgiving, peaked in early December with an known active COVID case count that surpassed 300 at one time.

“We’re below that but we are climbing,” Tvenge said. 

The Emergency Services Council raised the community’s risk level from green (or low risk) to yellow (intermediate) on July 29 after the numbers started to climb. The ESC determines whether to raise the risk, but doesn’t have a specific threshold number, Tvegne said. 

“We never did establish a number to do that because there are so many variables on what a number means,” Tvenge said. “Some of our criteria includes what it’s doing to our [emergency medical service], our local healthcare system and if the hospital is being overwhelmed, if patients are being shipped off island and seeing a lot of need for alternative care facilities.”

At the moment, Tvenge said, “none of that is occurring.”

The hospitalization rate remains low, with one patient being hospitalized locally for COVID-related issues as of Friday. Tvenge said two COVID patients were released from the hospital on Wednesday.

“Our local EMS and medical staff have not been overwhelmed with calls, although they are responding to COVID calls, but not like it has been in months past,” Tvenge said. 

Another variable includes the primary method of COVID transmission.

“Community spread is our biggest concern, but if it’s close contact that’s more defined and isolated,” Tvenge said.

So far, the majority of the cases reported in the recent wave have been close contact, or those occurring within gatherings or among family members.

“Right now we are seeing clusters, and that’s what is keeping the risk level where it’s at,” Tvenge said. “If there is a group of 16, we know where they got sick, how they got sick and that they are self-isolating. It’s not running around the community, which would be our biggest concern.”

As part of the increased risk level, the EOC issued strong recommendations for residents to wear masks regardless of vaccination status and practice other measures such as social distancing.

Some businesses have already adopted that recommendation policy, including Safeway and Walmart. 

The Kodiak courthouse reinstated a mask requirement for visitors entering the building, and the Kodiak Island Borough School District will begin its school year with universal masking requirements.

As a whole Alaska is witnessing the same spike. Between Monday and Thursday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 1,338 new cases. The Delta variant accounts for 97% of all newly detected cases since July 17. Delta is considered much more contagious than the original strain and is capable of infecting as many as eight people per exposure.

Alaska health officials continue to advocate for people to get vaccinated, with Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink calling the vaccine the best defense.

As of Friday, 49% of Alaskans of all ages had received at least one dose and 44% were fully vaccinated, according to the state’s Vaccine Monitoring Dashboard. The rate was much higher in Kodiak, with 58% of the population receiving at least one vaccine and 53% considered fully vaccinated.

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