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Alaska Pioneer Homes to resume limited family visitations, after months of isolation

The Anchorage Pioneer Home. (Anne Raup / ADN archives, 2019)

Alaska’s state-supported elder-care facilities — which have been closed to all visitors since March — will soon resume limited family visitations “in a controlled environment in each home,” according to a statement sent out by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Tuesday.

“We know this long period of separation has been hard on residents and family members,” the statement said. “Taking this action now can help reduce feelings of loneliness, helplessness and boredom that elders are experiencing.”

The decision to reopen was made in consultation with the state, and are only possible because of recent, extensive testing of residents and staff at all six homes, which have come back negative, the statement said.

Pioneer Homes operate in six locations: Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Palmer.

They have all been closed since March as a way to reduce residents’ risk of contracting the disease.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that while everyone is at risk of getting COVID-19, some people are more likely than others to become severely ill.

Elderly people fall into this high-risk category, meaning if they contract the virus, they are more likely to require hospitalization, intensive care or a ventilator to help them breathe.

To ensure that residents continue to be protected from possible infection, each individual home will implement a visitation plan on their own schedule, and not every home will open for visitations immediately.

But all visits “will take place in designated areas that are cleaned and disinfected between each visit,” the statement said, “and may be limited in time and frequency to allow all family and friends the opportunity to visit.”

Social distancing guidelines laid out by state — including maintaining six feet of distance, and wearing a face covering at all times — will be required.

Neither the Anchorage nor Fairbanks Pioneer Home is currently open for visitations, due to the high rates of COVID-19 infection in both cities.

Family members are encouraged to reach out to each home directly for more details, and specific timelines for when visitations will begin. Individual contact information can be found at the Alaska Pioneer Homes website.

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