Public Health Center offering flu shots to anybody who needs one

As the community prepares to combat the arrival of the coronavirus to Alaska, the Kodiak Public Health Center is still operational.

Overloading the medical system with COVID-19 cases is a major concern for state health officials. Public health nurse Elsa DeHart says reducing other types of disease — like the common flu — is a good way to help make sure medical providers don’t become overwhelmed.

Elsa DeHart, a nurse at the Kodiak Public Health Center talks about coronavirus prevention during The Lowdown on March 23, 2020. (Photo by Maggie Wall/KMXT)

So while some services, like sexually transmitted disease testing, is available only to those 29 and younger, the Public Health Center is still offering flu shots to anyone who might need one.

“We’ve lost over 30,000 people to the flu in the United States this year,” she said, referring to the common flu, not COVID-19. “If we can keep people from getting the flu that’ll help keep some of the pressure off of our medical providers. We’re providing flu vaccine right now to anybody, of any age, that wants it. And we can even go places and give it to people.”

Right now, DeHart says there are a limited number of tests available, so the Public Health Center is only testing people who are sick or may have been in contact with a sick person. She says they’re working hard to get more supplies and are hoping to set up a drive-through testing site in the next few weeks. The FDA recently approved a rapid test, which DeHart says Kodiak may get access to.

If a COVID-19 case does arrive on Kodiak, DeHart says Public Health’s role is to make sure as few people as possible are affected by performing a “contact investigation.”

“We go back 48 hours from the time that person first got sick, and then we try and find out everybody that they have been in contact with and let them know they need to watch themselves and monitor their temperatures and things like that.”

Public Health will check in on people who have been exposed to see if symptoms develop and if they need to be tested. Social distancing and quarantine precautions significantly cut down on the number of people exposed, DeHart says.

Though Kodiak has yet to see a case, DeHart urges Kodiak residents to take the outbreak seriously. Stay home as much as possible, limit contact with others, wash hands frequently and make sure frequently used surfaces remain as clean as possible.

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