State confirms 16 COVID-19 infections at McLaughlin Youth Center

This transmission electron microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus was isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

State health officials on Thursday confirmed 16 COVID-19 infections at the McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage.

The newly-diagnosed include 12 young Alaskans in a treatment unit at the youth detention center, and four staff members who work on that unit, said the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“The initial case was identified in a staff member who was tested after displaying symptoms,” the department said in a statement. “After the positive result came back, the unit the staff member worked on was placed in quarantine status and all youth residing and close contact staff working on the unit were tested.” 

Twelve of the 16 young people had positive tests. None were showing symptoms when tested, according to Tracy Dompeling, director of the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice.

After the initial case, two of the other three infected staff members had symptoms, and “had not been at work pending their test results,” Dompeling wrote in an email.

The staff members who tested positive are in isolation at their homes, and the young people are in isolation at the detention center, the statement said.

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The state says it’s now regularly testing all youth and staff at the center until the entire facility has two weeks of negative tests.

Also, it says, McLaughlin has sanitized the treatment unit where the young people were staying, and has provided staff with medical masks, gowns, eye protection and gloves.

Visitation at the center has been suspended since Aug. 5, and everyone in the center has been wearing masks since April, according to Dompeling.

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Previously at McLaughlin, one staff member tested positive for the virus in April, one young person tested positive in June, and another youth tested positive during the admission process in August and was asymptomatic.

There are 83 youth at McLaughlin between six units. They are usually between ages 12 and 18.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Alaska health officials reported a total 86 new cases of COVID-19 statewide, two of which were in nonresidents.

Forty-three of the new cases were in Anchorage, 16 were in Fairbanks, nine were in Wasilla, four were in Juneau, three were in Palmer and the remainder were in small communities around the state. No new deaths were reported.

The state was also tracking a large COVID-19 outbreak at the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage on Thursday, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District reported its first confirmed coronavirus infection among students since the school year started last week.

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