Since the closing of Capstone Clinics throughout the state, rapid antigen self-tests have become more popular and available as featured in this photo at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Since the closing of Capstone Clinics throughout the state, rapid antigen self-tests have become more popular and available as featured in this photo at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Local COVID numbers appear to be declining, but accurate count difficult amid at-home testing

Hospitalizations relatively low and steady.

From May to June, the City and Borough of Juneau reported a slight decrease in overall COVID-19 cases. However, since the closing of Capstone Clinics throughout the entire state and private test kits becoming more available, accurate and precise data has become more challenging to pinpoint.

As of June 16, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 347 new people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the Juneau, which is down from the approximately 25 cases per day that were reported just a month ago. According to Deputy City Manager Robert Barr, the situation of unclear numbers is simply a consequence of shifting to an at-home testing strategy, but a strategy that also comes with many benefits, such as convenience and getting testing to people who otherwise might not have the means.

“We’ve long known that shifting to an at-home testing strategy, which we of course have along with the rest of the country, would impact our ability to know how many active cases there are in town,” Barr said. “So, quite frankly, we don’t know how many active cases there are. We have estimates that epidemiologists publish that would lead us to believe that there are anywhere between three to seven times more cases at any given time and even those factors are variable.”

Hospital impacts, which Barr said are low and steady, are also not as significant as they had been in earlier phases of the pandemic. Barr added hospitalization cases versus actual COVID-19 numbers is an overall better way of determining the level of alarm within the community.

“We definitely pay a lot more attention to hospitals and just medical system impacts and tracking hospitalization rates are a big piece of that,” said Barr. “If we were facing COVID as it originally was, which landed a lot more people in the hospital, or if we were facing a different sort of disease that tended to have a bigger impact on the medical system, that would be something that would make me want to think seriously about testing strategy and instead maybe using strategy like we did earlier in the pandemic that was more trackable, but, of course, that’s shifted, so that’s why it makes sense to us that the testing strategy has likewise shifted.”

The City and Borough of Juneau received another shipment of federally funded COVID-19 rapid antigen self-tests on June 24, which are made available to the public at no cost at all Juneau Public Library branches, City Hall cash office, Juneau Police Department, and the Juneau Public Health Center. Catherine Melville, a collection development librarian for the Mendenhall Valley Public Library, said they continue to see a significant amount of foot traffic as a result of the self-tests.

“We’ve been distributing them for several months and I would say that it’s one of the most popular things we’ve ever done. We’ve had to get more supplies in here,” Melville said. “We distribute these throughout all three public libraries in Juneau and then there are other CBJ locations around town and the demand seems heavy.”

CBJ Parks and Recreation director George Schaaf said 64,208 test kits have been received and 54,706 total have been distributed by CBJ since January 2022, with the Mendenall Valley Public Library being the primary location having 800 to 900 being distributed per week. Schaaf added that park rangers have been resupplying distribution sites in general every two weeks.

Despite confirmed COVID-19 cases not being an exact number as a result of self-testing, Barr said it’s the amount of current unknowns that make it that much more important for people to get vaccinated as the virus continues to evolve.

“I think that, from where I sit, it doesn’t appear as though COVID is going anywhere; it seems that it will be a common illness that we will have to deal with as a community and a society for the foreseeable future,” Barr said. “The thing that I would emphasize is that vaccines continue to be preventing COVID or preventing severe outcomes in COVID is one of the most important things that we can do individually and the vaccines that we have are quite effective at doing that and preventing those severe outcomes and they’re safe. So, I would encourage people to take the opportunity, they’re available in many places throughout the community.”

Juneau COVID-19 data, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

— COVID-19 Community Level: Medium

Case rate pet 100,000 people: 453.49

New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people: 4.3

Percentage of staffed inpatient beds in use by COVID-19 patients: 3.2%

• Contact Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com

Newly stocked supply of rapid antigen self-tests ate stacked at the Mendenhall Valley Library and are available at all public libraries throughout Juneau and other locations, as well. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Newly stocked supply of rapid antigen self-tests ate stacked at the Mendenhall Valley Library and are available at all public libraries throughout Juneau and other locations, as well. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

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