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Alaska’s first COVID-19 death in over a month was resident at Anchorage care center in midst of outbreak

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A resident at an East Anchorage care center experiencing Alaska’s largest COVID-19 outbreak died Sunday, becoming the state’s 11th death associated with the coronavirus.

The fatal case came more than a month after the last reported death of a state resident with the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The state’s count of 11 new cases reported Tuesday involve six Anchorage residents, and one each among residents of Haines, Kotzebue, Nome, and Fox River and Anchor Point in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

That tally doesn’t include the first virus case reported in the Alaska Peninsula fishing community of King Cove over the weekend, which involves a non-Alaska resident.

King Cove officials say a Peter Pan Seafoods worker from Seattle tested positive after she arrived on a company charter flight to bring workers to the large Peter Pan plant in the middle of town. Another new seafood industry case was reported in the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs. That brings the total of non-residents in Alaska confirmed to have COVID-19 to 49.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported the new death, involving an Anchorage resident at Providence Transitional Care Center, on Tuesday. State data shows five Municipality of Anchorage residents with the virus have now died.

The transitional care center resident was hospitalized and died at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Sunday evening, according to a Providence spokesman.

“This resident was a cherished member of the PTCC family, and we are deeply saddened,” spokesman Mikal Canfield said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “We extend our sympathies to their family and loved ones in their time of loss.”

The outbreak of the virus at the center began in late May with a resident who tested positive after experiencing a cough and fever. More than 400 residents and employees were tested in the following days, and the number of positive test results rose quickly.

The transitional care center resident who died Sunday was not the first person to test positive, but was discovered to be COVID-positive during the first round of testing, Canfield said.

By Monday, 41 residents and caregivers had tested positive, including two people requiring hospitalization.

As of noon Tuesday, Providence had moved five patients from a transitional care center wing without COVID-positive residents to St. Elias Specialty Hospital, Canfield said. Those patients had two negative tests before the move.

Providence officials worked “very closely” with state health officials — including the public health director — while making the transfers, Canfield said. Providence and St. Elias were involved in a joint venture before the hospital transitioned to Providence ownership as of January.

Moving residents there helps address "staffing challenges” from COVID-positive caregivers now quarantined at home, Canfield said. The move also allows some residents to get rehabilitation therapy for the first time since the outbreak started in late May.

Basically, the Providence care center has three types of groups in the facility right now, he said: COVID-negative; COVID-positive; and COVID-negative but exposed.

Still more cases may surface when results come back from a second round of testing.

“The Alaska DHSS and Epidemiology agree with us that transferring a COVID-negative but exposed patient poses more of a risk than transferring a negative patient,” Canfield said in an email. “Once all results are back from the second round of universal testing, we may reconsider this approach.”

Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in a statement Tuesday that learning of the resident’s death “hit us hard” at the state health department.

"(W)e join the family and loved ones in mourning their loss,” Zink said. “Providence is aggressively responding to this outbreak but this just shows how we’re all connected and why each of us must be diligent in doing everything we can to prevent the spread of this disease in our communities.”

The state is also grappling with the first outbreak within the Alaska Marine Highway System, after seven crew members on the ferry Tustumena tested positive for COVID-19.

7-day rolling averages

Health officials on Tuesday reported one more Alaskan became sick enough from COVID-19 to be hospitalized, bringing that total to 49 patients since March.

It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether the state’s new hospitalization statistic was associated with the Providence outbreak.

The last COVID-19-related death of a state resident was reported in early May. An Anchor Point man in his 80s with pre-existing medical conditions died with the virus, state officials said at the time. The man tested positive at South Peninsula Hospital, was admitted there and then died.

Before that, the last death reported was a Mat-Su woman in her 30s who died in mid-April. State officials said the woman had underlying health issues.

There were 173 active COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of Tuesday, according to state data. A total of 573 Alaska residents have tested positive for the virus since early March.

Of the 11 new Alaska cases, seven are male and four are female, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. Two are under the age of 10; two are age 10-19; three are in their 30s; one is in their 40s; two are in their 60s; and one is in their 70s.

Recovered cases now total 389, with five new recovered cases recorded Monday, state health officials say. A total of 66,890 tests have been conducted.

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