City reports one death from Brother Francis outbreak

A boxy red and gray building
The Brother Francis Shelter in July, 2020. The shelter has been operating at about half of its normal capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently able to house 114 people. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

At least one person who stayed at the Brother Francis Shelter has died of COVID-19, according to city officials, and the number of cases related to the outbreak appears to be growing. 

The number of confirmed cases at the shelter is now 89, up ten cases from the beginning of the week. 

 “I said last week that I was cautiously optimistic that we had our hands completely around it. I’m slightly less optimistic this week but still not overly concerned,” said City Manager Bill Falsey, who directs the emergency response to the pandemic. 

Brother Francis serves a vulnerable population of elderly and physically disabled people who are homeless. Before the outbreak, it had a capacity of 114, but was running below that capacity prior to the outbreak. 

At a press conference on Friday, Falsey said about 148 people stayed at the shelter who may have been exposed to the virus. 

Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist for the city’s health department, said the staff are redoubling efforts to contact people who may have been exposed. She said the city, working with homeless service providers, has been trying to get in touch with people who may have been exposed. City employees are also visiting locations on foot to offer testing. 

“We’re now thinking of it more as an outbreak across the entire homeless and at-risk-of-homeless population, and making sure that we get testing out,” she said. 

Six people have been hospitalized so far from the homeless population, according to city officials.