25 additional residents and staff at Fairbanks Pioneer Home test positive for coronavirus

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Twenty residents and five staff members at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home have tested positive for the coronavirus over the last week, growing the outbreak there to 53 cases in less than a month.

No deaths have occurred, and one resident is currently hospitalized, according to an update sent out by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Tuesday.

“An isolation unit has been set up at the home so all positive residents can be cared for in one area by staff who have recovered and were cleared to return to work,” the state health department said.

Most of the new cases were identified over the weekend, and the outbreak appears to be contained to two areas within the home, according to email updates sent to families this month by an administrator at the home.

“Residents are being reminded to stay in their rooms to decrease traffic in the hallways," the administrator said in an email to families Sunday. “We have closed the common areas to prevent any residents from gathering in those areas as well. When you speak to your loved ones here, it would be helpful to reiterate the need to stay in their rooms. The staff are working hard to redirect people back to their rooms for their safety."

The first case involving a resident there was identified two days later, and as of last week, the outbreak had grown to 28.

[Alaska’s Pioneer Homes attempt to navigate a complicated path to stave off COVID-19]

Staff have been getting tested twice a week since Sept. 22, when a case was identified in a staff member, DHSS officials said last week. Residents at the home are being tested twice weekly, and were previously being tested if they began showing symptoms of the virus.

“Aggressive testing of residents and staff will continue," the state health department said Tuesday.

The state runs six homes serving nearly 500 Alaskans ages 60 and older in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.

The homes enacted visitor bans in March, and while some have since reopened, the Anchorage and Fairbanks homes remain closed to visitors due to high rates of community spread in the surrounding communities.

The first outbreak of cases at a Pioneer Home occurred early this summer at the Anchorage Pioneer Home. Two residents associated with that outbreak died.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that COVID-19 poses an especially high risk to elder-care facilities because they often involve congregate settings and residents who are particularly vulnerable to the illness.

The New York Times reported last month 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.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.