12 COVID-19 cases reported at Anchorage’s largest shelter

A sign in front of a beige entry way behind grey steps reads Attention, we have reached Capacity"
The Sullivan Arena has been running at capacity for several weeks. Aug. 28, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s large temporary homeless shelter at the Sullivan Arena reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 during its last round of testing. That’s the most cases reported during the shelter’s weekly tests, which have been happening for the last two months. 

The Sullivan is run by Bean’s Cafe and has room for about 350 guests. The shelter encourages guests to get weekly COVID-19 tests, but about half of the residents have not been getting tested each week, according to numbers provided by Bean’s. 

Cathleen McLaughlin, the director of the shelter, says that officials were able to quarantine 10 of the positive cases who were still at the shelter as soon as they got results back on September 3. The other two were no longer at the shelter, said McLaughlin. She said that staff executed their response plan successfully.

“Our goal is to make sure that we can quickly identify, quarantine and then isolate off-site the people that are coming up positive,” she said.

The news comes as Anchorage efforts continue to contain an outbreak among the city’s homeless population that started at the Brother Francis Shelter two weeks ago. As of Sunday, that outbreak had infected at least 93 people who had stayed at Brother Francis, according to a spokesperson from Anchorage’s Emergency Operations Center. At least one person has died as a result of that outbreak. 

McLaughlin says that it’s unclear whether Brother Francis and Sullivan cases were related. 

“Brother Francis’ outbreak informed us of how much homeless individuals mingle with each other so it would not surprise me if some of these individuals had been mingling with individuals that had been at Brother Francis,”  she said. 

The next round of testing at the Sullivan will happen on Tuesday with results towards the end of the week. 

Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean’s Cafe, said that the new cases, while unfortunate, represent a small fraction of the 2,500 guests who have been through the shelter since the beginning of the pandemic. A total of 20 people have tested positive during the weekly COVID-19 testing, which began at the end of July,  including the most recent 12 positives. 

Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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