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4 Alaska Psychiatric Institute patients test positive for COVID-19

Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Oct. 13, 2018 (ADN photo)

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Four patients at Alaska’s state-run psychiatric facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute won’t be taking any new admissions for two weeks.

According to a statement from the state’s health department Friday night, the patients who tested positive are being moved to a separate unit from other patients and they will have to wear masks. Staff going into the unit will be limited.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the patients received their positive test results or if they were showing symptoms of the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Increasing COVID-19 cases statewide — and particularly in Anchorage, where the facility is located — have made it hard to keep the virus out of facilities like API, institute CEO Scott York said in a statement.

“We’ve had mitigation plans in place since the beginning of this pandemic and we’ll continue to follow those strategies and any additional precautions the Section of Epidemiology recommend to keep our patients and staff as safe as we possibly can," York said.

Facilities like API are considered high-risk settings for COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They present a risk because patients may be transferred in from other high-risk settings and there may be challenges with putting infection prevention measures into place because of “complex patient needs.”

The first case publicly linked to API involved a staff member who tested positive identified in July, and there have been eight total cases connected to the facility: three in staff and five among patients there.

“API has been communicating with employees, contractors, union representatives and impacted patients and guardians to keep them informed and provide guidance on what actions are being taken based on their exposure risk,” the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in its statement.

Since early in the pandemic, staff at the facility have been required to wear surgical masks in patient areas and face coverings outside of those areas. Employees have been screened for symptoms and temperatures each day, and new admissions were being tested for COVID-19 before being admitted, according to the state health department.

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