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Alaska reports 7 new COVID-19 cases; care center involved in weekend spike reports 5 more

Twelve of the twenty-seven confirmed COVID-19 cases reported on Sunday, May 31, 2020, were at the Providence Transitional Care Center in Anchorage. Five more were reported Monday, bringing the total to 17. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Alaska’s COVID-19 case count increased by at least seven Monday after a weekend that saw the biggest daily increase since the coronavirus was first confirmed in the state.

Five more positive COVID cases were also confirmed at an East Anchorage transitional care facility Monday, bringing the total there to 17. None of those cases was included in the day’s state count, which reflects positive tests confirmed as of noon.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported a new statewide total of 467 COVID-19 cases, but no new hospitalizations or deaths. Three new cases were reported in Anchorage, one in Homer, one in Kenai and two others on the Kenai Peninsula in an unidentified location.

A total of 47 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Ten Alaskans have died of it.

The state also reported no new recovered patients. That means Alaska’s active COVID-19 cases increased by nearly 50 to 89 in the past week.

The state on Sunday reported 27 new cases, the highest daily increase since March. Twelve came from a transitional care facility operated by Providence Health & Services Alaska in East Anchorage.

Providence confirmed another five cases there Monday. One of the 17 positive patients needed to be hospitalized, according to Dr. Michael Bernstein, chief medical officer for Providence’s Alaska region. That person is not in intensive care.

The outbreak at the center was discovered Friday after a resident with a cough and a fever tested positive. More than 400 residents and caregivers were tested.

The first patient had been at the facility long enough that it wasn’t likely they acquired the virus outside, Bernstein said. “We believe they did acquire the infection within the facility.”

All 48 residents at the Providence Transitional Care Center were tested. Officials describe the center as mostly rehabilitation-focused, with patients ranging from 20s to 80s who typically stay for 40 to 50 days as they move from hospitalization through treatments like speech or physical therapy to home or assisted living.

Also tested “out of an abundance of caution” were 96 residents at Providence Extended Care, a separate long-term care facility with a largely senior population on the same campus, officials say. About 300 caregivers were also tested.

A relatively small number of caregiver tests were still pending Monday, hospital officials said.

The majority of the cases involved residents, but Providence officials declined to provide a more specific breakdown between resident and caregiver positives.

Municipal health workers were conducting contract tracing on caregivers and Providence was handling tracing for residents.

“I can’t tell you how high a priority it is” for Providence to keep patients, residents and workers safe, Bernstein said during a teleconference call with reporters Monday.

The transitional and long-term care campus has received high ratings in infection prevention surveys, he said. “This virus is really tough.”

Since March, the transitional center has banned visitors except for patients who are actively dying, officials say. The facility was the first in the Providence system to adopt universal masking.

The facility is trying to keep the COVID-positive patients together and limit staff interactions between patients with the virus and those without, Bernstein said.

Providence had planned to do broad COVID tests at the transitional center this week, he said. There weren’t enough test supplies to do that before now given the main hospital’s busy ER, the demands of a Providence drive-through testing facility, and state requirements for testing prior to medical procedures.

Providence on Friday obtained additional testing supplies from the state because there “was an urgency to contain this,” Bernstein said. “If we had taken all of ours to do this site, we could have run low or out at the hospital emergency room or the drive-through.”

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