Sixteen new cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage, Alaska’s health department said Thursday.
Among those who tested positive, 12 were youths in a treatment unit of the facility and four were employees who work in that same unit and are now isolating at home, according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The first case out of the 16 was identified Friday, according to Division of Juvenile Justice Director Tracy Dompeling.
All youths staying in the unit as well as staff and close contacts were tested after a staff member began showing COVID-19 symptoms and received a positive test result. Of the 16 youths staying in the unit, 12 returned positive results and the four with negative results were moved to a different area, the state health department said.
At the time of testing, none of the youths were showing symptoms, but staff who tested positive “were feeling some level of symptoms and had been away from work pending the results of their COVID-19 tests,” Dompeling said in an email Thursday.
Each person staying in the treatment unit has “their own individual living space,” though they share bathrooms with others, Dompeling said. While youths at the facility used to eat in a cafeteria, they’ve been eating among their units for months as a COVID-19 precaution, she said.
At McLaughlin, there are 83 youths in six living units, including some detention units and treatment units, Dompeling said.
The cases were not the first to be reported at the center. A youth tested positive during admission to the facility in August, as did one youth in June and one staff member in April, the state health department said.
The facility suspended visitors on Aug. 5 as cases of COVID-19 spread around Anchorage. Youth justice facilities statewide have been testing new admissions and requiring a 14-day quarantine after admission since April 28, the health department said.
The unit where the cases emerged has been through “a thorough sanitization,” and employees were given personal protective equipment to limit further spread, according to state health officials.
“All of DJJ’s facilities have been continually educating staff about infection control procedures; conducting health screenings of any personnel entering the building; immediately sending home any staff who have symptoms; screening residents daily for symptoms; and masks are worn throughout DJJ facilities by staff and youth,” the state health department said in its statement.
Employees and youths at McLaughlin will be tested until the whole facility goes through two weeks in which everyone tests negative, according to the health department. So far, according to Dompeling, 280 people were tested Wednesday and awaiting test results and there will be additional testing Friday for people who were off on previous testing days.
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