Twelve new Anchorage cases are at Providence extended care facility

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (in yellow) — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (in blue/pink) cultured in a lab. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

A dozen people in an extended care facility in Anchorage have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Those infected with the virus are a mix of residents and caregivers at the Providence Transitional Care Center — a skilled nursing facility in Anchorage. They’re among 27 new Alaskans that state health officials announced had the virus on Sunday. 

It’s the largest single day spike in cases since Alaska first started tracking the spread of the virus in March. 

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During a Sunday press conference, Providence Health & Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Bernstein said the hospital learned Friday that one resident had developed symptoms. So, over the weekend they tested all of the residents and staff in the facility. 

Bernstein said it’s something that they had been working to prevent since mid-March. Staff have worn personal protective equipment, they’ve been cleaning high touch areas several times a day and there has been no visitation since mid-March. 

“We were hoping we could prevent this from happening but we know this is a highly transmissible or contagious virus and the real challenge is that people can be very infectious when they’re asymptomatic or before their symptoms develop,” he said.  

RELATED: Alaska sees largest single day spike in COVID-19 cases

There are a few test results still pending. So the true size of the outbreak should become clearer in the next few days. 

“As for now, our work focuses on caring for the residents who are positive, most of whom do not have symptoms at this time,” he said. 

Outside of that healthcare facility, Anchorage had other cases. Natasha Pineda, Director of the Anchorage Health Department said city nurses are investigating all of them, but one is the contact of another known positive case in the state. 

“So we’re really asking the community members in Anchorage, as you proceed forward in our reopening, to go slow. As you expand your bubble, keep in mind the critical importance of physical distancing,” she said. 

RELATED: Bristol Bay announces 3 additional cases of COVID-19 since Friday

That message is one that the state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, reiterated as well.  She said the virus continues to spread through Southcentral Alaska, particularly in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula. 

“As we’re doing interviews, it appears to be that these seem to be linked — at least some of the cases — into clusters relating to some large celebrations that happened,” Zink said. 

“It’s impressive when we see this disease, how sneaky it can be and it can really spread amongst larger groups of people — 20, 30, 40 people getting together for a celebration, spreading, and then people going to work sick and how it can spread from there.” 

She said it’s important for Alaskans to remember to limit the number of people they come in contact with. Though, it’s inevitable that the virus will continue to spread.

“We always knew that open never meant over,” she said 

Despite the jump, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration doesn’t plan to change its trajectory in reopening the state fully.  

“The fact is the virus is out there. We know it’s here in Alaska. We know it has been in many cities and communities in Alaska. We’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it at bay, we’re doing a pretty good job at testing. But we’ve always said, the numbers are going to go up,” he said. 

This week, his administration plans to end a requirement that people traveling into the state quarantine for 14 days. Instead visitors and Alaskans returning to the state will be asked to take a test with 72 hours of boarding an Alaska-bound flight. 

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