Two Fairbanks healthcare workers test positive for COVID-19

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital in Fairbanks, Alaska (Wikimedia commons photo)

Two of the Fairbanks area’s recent COVID-19 cases are health care workers.

Foundation Health Partners, the organization that operates Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, discussed the cases during a daily incident management team video conference on Wednesday.

Executive Director Shelly Ebenal said the first individual isolated at home after experiencing symptoms March 20. They received a positive test result Monday.

“Initial reports indicate the contact this employee had with others is deemed low risk,” said Ebenal. “The last known contact with FMH facility was last Friday.”

Following the press conference, it was announced that a second individual contracted the illness from the first person. Ebenal says health care workers continue to be screened for illness.

“Foundation Health Partners instituted a mandatory temperature monitoring for all employees last week, sending all employees with fevers home,” said Ebenal. “All employees returning from travel are required to call occupation health to determine the risk vectors.”

Hospital officials said they anticipated staff would contract the virus, but the potential of it spreading further is a concern.

“It is why we’ve been approaching it very aggressively,” said Ebenal.

Foundation Health Partners quality medical director Dr. Angelique Ramirez said patient care could be affected by staff getting sick.

“We recognize that we have limited resources in Fairbanks,” said Ramirez. “We are at the end of the road.”

Ramirez said Fairbanks and Alaska in general have the advantage of drawing on the experiences of other communities and hospitals, and because of that have been taking a very aggressive and proactive approach including limiting access to facilities, and careful use of personal protective equipment, like masks.

“We have very, very thoughtful use of how we use our PPEs so that we have the right PPE for the right occasion to protect all of our healthcare workers,” said Ramirez.

Foundation Health Partners board president Jeff Cook commended the medical and broader community for coming together in response to the COVID-19 threat.

“We are very well prepared,” said Cook. “As much as any community can be. We’re no different as far as supplies and things we’d like to have more of whether they’re test kits or respirators, than any of the rest of the country.”

Cook noted that the hospital is benefitting from donations, including medical masks and gowns.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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