Anchorage transitional care center reports 5 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 17

The Providence Transitional Care Center shares a campus with Providence Extended Care in East Anchorage. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

The number of coronavirus cases at the Providence Transitional Care Center in Anchorage climbed by five on Monday, to 17, as test results continue to come back.

It’s the largest reported cluster of coronavirus cases at a single facility in Alaska, according to the state health department.

The Providence cases are part of a weekend spike of positive tests.

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How the virus entered the transitional care center is under investigation, said Dr. Michael Bernstein, chief medical officer for Providence Health & Services Alaska, the operator of the facility. 

“We became aware of the infection when, last Thursday, one of the residents there developed a fever and cough and was tested for COVID,” Bernstein said in a call with reporters on Monday. “The test returned on Friday as positive.”

Bernstein said the patient likely acquired the coronavirus at the transitional care center based on how long the individual was staying there.

“At this point,” he said, “we don’t have information about how that resident may have acquired the virus.”

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The transitional center can serve up to 49 patients. As of Friday, it had 48. They range in age, and stay there as a midway point between hospitalization and going home or to an assisted-living facility, Bernstein said. Some may be recovering from surgeries or serious illness. They often stay for 40 to 50 days.

Friday’s positive case prompted Providence to have all of the transitional center’s patients and staff tested for the virus. It’s also testing all of the residents and employees at Providence Extended Care, a long-term care facility that serves about 100 people, mostly seniors. 

The facilities share the same campus in East Anchorage. But there are “very, very few” employees who travel between the two operations, Bernstein said. 

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“We’re testing the whole campus because the population is all one that we would consider as susceptible or vulnerable,” he said.

By Monday afternoon, more than 400 patients, residents and employees were tested for the virus, with “a relatively small number” of results still pending, Bernstein said.

None of the tests from Providence Extended Care had come back positive, he said. 

The 17 positive tests from the transitional center include both patients and employees. Bernstein declined to break down the number further citing privacy concerns. 

He said one person has required hospitalization so far. 

On Monday afternoon, it was quiet outside of the campus — a group of buildings off Boniface Parkway. A security vehicle was parked near the entrance.

Bernstein said the transitional center enacted strict procedures in March in an effort to keep the virus out, including universal masking and closing to visitors. That ban will remain in place on the campus.

“The one exception would be in an end-of-life situation,” he said.

He noted that in various surveys the transitional center has been “exemplary in their infection prevention techniques.” But, he added: “This virus is really tough.” 

The coronavirus has been shown to spread in similar settings, where people live in a confined space, and the virus is particularly deadly among older people and those with underlying medical conditions. The New York Times reported last month that one-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths were tied to long-term care facilities for older adults.

On the Anchorage campus, patients who have tested positive for the virus are staying in their rooms, Bernstein said, and the workers who test positive are staying home.

“We do everything we can to avoid having staff care for both a COVID and non-COVID patient during the same working shift,” he said. 

There will be a second round of testing completed later this week, Bernstein said.

The new coronavirus cases at the transitional center will likely be reported in the state’s data on Tuesday. The state reports positive cases daily based on the prior day’s numbers.

On Monday, the state reported seven new coronavirus cases among Alaskans. Three are from Anchorage and four are from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. None are linked to the transitional center, according to the health department. 

A day earlier, the state announced Alaska’s largest daily case increase: 27, with 11 of them tied to Providence.

The latest coronavirus counts come just over a week after the state ended capacity restrictions on businesses, and days before the state plans to lift its 14-day requirement for travelers and require testing instead.

This story has been updated.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.

Send your questions about the pandemic in Alaska to coronavirus@alaskapublic.org or leave us a message at 907-586-1600