Fairbanks Pioneer Home reports 28 new cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents in last two weeks

More than two dozen new cases of COVID-19 were discovered among both staff and residents at a state-run assisted living facility in Fairbanks.

Since Sept. 21, there have been 28 new cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus, state health officials said in a written announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

Of the new cases at the home, nine were in residents there and 19 were in staff members. Staff have been getting tested twice a week since Sept. 22, when a positive case was discovered in a staff member, DHSS officials said.

In an email on Wednesday, DHSS spokesman Clinton Bennett said the first case involving a resident there was identified two days later.

Since Monday, residents at the home are being tested twice weekly, and were previously being tested if they began showing symptoms of the virus, state health officials said in Tuesday. One other resident and five other staff members have recovered from the illness previously.

Bennett said all of the cases at the home are being investigated and it was not known Wednesday whether they were all related.

All of the residents are in isolation, though “a handful” will come out of isolation over the weekend if they do not show symptoms, Bennett said.

When asked how many residents were showing symptoms Tuesday, Bennett responded in the email that “a few of the residents who have tested positive are fatigued.”

There were no residents or staff hospitalized on Wednesday. No deaths have been associated with the cases, Bennett said.

The new cases follow an outbreak of cases that occurred in the Anchorage Pioneer Home this past summer, which resulted in multiple deaths of residents.

COVID-19 poses an especially high risk to nursing homes and long term care facilities because they often involve congregate settings and residents who are particularly vulnerable to the illness, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In September, the New York Times reported that while coronavirus cases in nursing homes made up for about 7% of the total COVID-19 cases in the nation, they made up 40% of the country’s deaths from the illness.

“We are stressing the importance of infection control procedures within the home and safe practices when staff are out in the community. However, increased cases in Fairbanks make it very challenging to keep COVID-19 out of the facility since our staff live and interact within the community where the disease is spreading,” according to a statement from Deputy Commissioner Clinton Lasley in the release.

Residents with positive test results were isolated and will have dedicated staffing when possible and staff who tested positive isolated at home, the health department said.

In a statement, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, urged Alaskans to “re-evaluate their routines and behaviors when outside of their home.”

She asked that Alaskans continue wearing a mask, staying six feet or more from others and keeping their social circles small.

“We’re seeing very high numbers of cases in many communities across the state. And as we see in Fairbanks, this can increase the risk to some of our most vulnerable citizens," Zink said.