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‘Large outbreak’ reported with 61 COVID-19 cases at Brother Francis Shelter

Health officials say there is a large COVID-19 outbreak at the Brother Francis Shelter.
Health officials say there is a large COVID-19 outbreak at the Brother Francis Shelter.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 1:54 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The outbreak at Brother Francis Shelter has grown to at least 60 identified cases, health care officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said Thursday.

State Epidemiologist, Joe McLaughlin, said that at least five people have been hospitalized in relation to the Brother Francis Shelter outbreak. One person is still in the hospital but four others have been discharged.

“We are in the middle of a large outbreak in the shelter currently,” McLaughlin said.

The Anchorage Health Department said it has identified COVID-19 in 60 clients and one staff member.

“It is likely that this outbreak extends beyond the residents in this one shelter and widespread testing of persons experiencing homelessness and their care providers is needed,” AHD Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Chandler said in a statement.

The first case of COVID-19 was reported at the shelter last week, Tricia Teasley with Catholic Social Services said. A client who was no longer staying at the shelter had reported their positive test result to the Brother Francis Shelter, which began on-site testing of clients the next day.

Over the weekend, the shelter had identified at least 20 cases of COVID-19 in clients at Brother Francis. McLaughlin said that number has grown to at least 60 cases.

The shelter said it has been complying with CDC guidelines since the pandemic began. The shelter administers COVID-19 tests three times a week and has added washing stations.

“It’s the first known case we’ve had at the shelter so we feel very fortunate to have gone this long,” Teasley said in an interview Tuesday.

All Anchorage shelters have screening protocols in place to monitor clients and staff members for COVID-19 symptoms, but AHD said the outbreak “was not recognized until widespread testing was conducted.”

Chandler said the outbreak will likely grow and is encouraging health care providers to look for signs of serious illness in people who are homeless.

The Anchorage Health Department has started listing the Brother Francis Shelter as one of the confirmed COVID-19 exposure locations on Thursday saying people could have been exposed from Aug. 16 through Aug. 27. Bill Falsey, Anchorage municipal incident commander, has previously said the location was not listed because the department was able to identify all or most of the close contacts of people with the virus.

According to the municipal shelter occupancy dashboard, the Brother Francis Shelter has 55 occupants as of Thursday. The clients with COVID-19 have been moved out of Catholic Social Services facilities and are now in isolation at an emergency operations center facility. The EOC said the municipality has expanded facilities meant to house people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

KTUU reached out to officials at the Municipality of Anchorage about the new cases, but a spokesperson said municipal officials would not be available for questions until Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday.

“The EOC’s primary and necessary focus is its response to the outbreak at BFS,” Spokesperson Carolyn Hall wrote in an email.

The additional cases at Brother Francis Shelter come as DHSS has also reported COVID-19 cases in 12 youth and four staff members at the McLaughlin Youth Center. The department said it was working with AHD to identify close contacts, but all 16 cases come from individuals within the same treatment unit.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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