Clusters of coronavirus cases tied to Ketchikan nursing home, long-term care facility

A white and blue sign outside of a multi-story white and blue medical building.
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. PeaceHealth’s long-term care unit in Ketchikan is currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak — and there’s another at Ketchikan Pioneer Home. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

A wave of COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan is connected to long-term care and assisted-living facilities, with at least two dozen people testing positive.

One of the outbreaks is at the state-run Ketchikan Pioneer Home, where at least 10 elderly residents and two staff members have tested positive, the state Department of Health and Social Services confirmed on Monday. The elder care facility is closed to visitors for at least two weeks, said agency spokesperson Clinton Bennett. That closure could be extended, depending on cases, he said.

Residents are asked to stay in their rooms, but are not required to, according to Bennett. If they do come out of their rooms, they are asked to maintain social distancing.

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Meanwhile, there’s a second outbreak at PeaceHealth’s long-term care unit, with at least 12 people testing positive as of Tuesday.

That same day, PeaceHealth announced that it will require its caregivers to be fully vaccinated — or submit a qualifying medical exemption — by the end of the month.

PeaceHealth executive Dr. Doug Koekkoek said the decision to require vaccinations is not because of recent outbreaks at facilities. Instead, he said, it’s because of the growing number of cases in Ketchikan and every other community in the Pacific Northwest the nonprofit health care system serves.

“Though nearly 80% of PeaceHealth caregivers have already been vaccinated, the potential harm from variants now circulating makes it imperative that we do more,” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccines are the single best way to protect ourselves and reduce the likelihood of harming others.”

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The vaccination rate for Ketchikan’s Pioneer Home residents and staff is above 90%, said Bennett. But there’s no mandate requiring vaccinations at the state-run facility. It’s being left up to the individual.

Both Ketchikan’s hospital and Pioneer Home have people interacting in close quarters. Ketchikan public health nurse Arizona Jacobs, who updates the Ketchikan COVID-19 data dashboard, said she’s noticed a trend of cases coming out of congregate settings, where people live and work in close quarters.

“It’s almost sort of expected in those types of tight spaces that a lot of people will test positive,” she said. “And that’s what we’re seeing. Unfortunately, it’s also spilling out into the community.” 

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