ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Over the weekend, the state confirmed Alaska's biggest spike in COVID-19 cases yet. In a single day, Anchorage saw 15 new cases, where at least 12 were confirmed to be residents and staff at Providence Transitional Care Center.
According to Providence's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Bernstein, that number is growing as they continue testing everyone at the facility. He said early Monday afternoon that it may be closer to 17 cases based on the data he had then.
Bernstein said there are roughly 400 residents and staff at the facility combined.
As of Monday, he said all the residents and almost all the staff had been tested at least once. In about a week, he said they'll test everyone again to make sure they didn't miss someone who may be a carrier but tested negative.
How the virus got in is still under investigation. While visitors have not been allowed inside since March, he said there are still staff and workers going in and out.
"So there's always some degree of traffic. But it'll probably be some time before we have completed more contact in the investigation to get an idea of how it might have gotten in," he said.
Depending on the results of the second wave of testing, Bernstein said they will probably do a third round after that to be sure.
Bernstein explained Providence Transitional Care is not exclusively a nursing home. There are many senior citizens there. However it's a facility where people go when they're well enough to leave the hospital, but still need time before they go home.
"They have the kind of chronic conditions that do make someone more susceptible to the virus," he said, "but they may have just had surgery, or they may have had a stroke. So it is a very vulnerable population."
He said the people inside could be as young as 20 or well into their 80s.
One of the people who contracted the disease in their 80s at the facility is George Smith. His daughter, Susan Peck, confirmed his positive test to Channel 2 reporters.
Peck said her father was admitted to the facility right around the time the pandemic started affecting life in Alaska. She said he suffered a brain injury that he had undergone surgery for at the hospital. Afterward, he said he, unfortunately, had a stroke.
Up until now, Peck said she and her family had been calling Smith on video chat to keep up with him. It wasn't as good as seeing him in person, but she said it cheered him up for the whole day.
"Now with this COVID we can't see him, we can't talk to him, we can't do anything in there," she said.
Bernstein said the policy is to immediately notify family members if a patient tests positive in the hospital. Peck said she found out by calling to check on him as she does daily.
Peck said she is a nurse herself, so she's had to deal with the fear and uncertainty of the virus, and how much busier a healthcare job has become during this pandemic.
"I get that we sometimes get so involved in our job that we forget that the family is part of that patient," she said, "and we forget to notify them or we forget to call them, but with the scariness of this whole COVID thing I think it's something that we need to be mindful of."
Peck said she believes she found out about her father a day after his positive test.
She said that her greatest feeling is sadness that this is happening to her father, but some in her family are angered by the fact that the virus made it inside the facility.
Now, she said her biggest fear is her father dying alone.
"You need those closures, those goodbyes to see that person when they die," she said, "So it's going to be hard to see how we deal with it."
On the Providence website an update from Monday announced that the facility will be closed to visitors, but exceptions will be made for people who are coming to visit a loved one at the end of life.
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