Five residents died in COVID-19 outbreak at Ketchikan’s Pioneer Home

The Pioneer Home in Ketchikan. In August 2021, five residents died in a COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by KRBD)

Five residents at Ketchikan’s Pioneer Home died from COVID-19 during an outbreak at the nursing home this past week. That’s according to the state health department, which runs the residential home for Alaskans 65 and older.

Health and Social Services spokesperson Clinton Bennett said in an email that a total of 12 residents and five staff have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, and four residents were hospitalized. He said the “majority” of cases are no longer active.

Bennett declined to say whether any of the five people who died were fully vaccinated, citing privacy concerns. He said the overall vaccination rate for residents and staff is above 90%. But even with that high vaccination rate, Bennett says Pioneer Home residents are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

As of Aug. 1, Bennett says 43 residents were living in the facility. Some 37 people now live at the state-run assisted living home, he said.

State health officials wouldn’t address the recent deaths during a regular call to reporters Thursday. But official figures show that as of Aug. 14, seven fully vaccinated people across the state have died of COVID-19 this year. So-called “vaccine breakthrough” deaths made up roughly 6% of the state’s 110 total fatalities in 2021. Vaccine breakthrough cases amounted to roughly 8% of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations during that period.

Federal health officials recently outlined plans to provide booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines. People age 18 and older who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be eligible for a booster shot eight months after their second shot starting in September. People with certain conditions that weaken the immune system are eligible for third doses now.

A total of eight people have died from COVID-19 in Ketchikan, according to the community’s pandemic dashboard.

The state health department spokesperson says that throughout the pandemic, Pioneer Homes have been “extra careful mitigating this virus in hopes of keeping residents and staff as safe and healthy as possible.”

A separate COVID-19 outbreak at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center’s long-term care unit has infected a total of 12 residents and seven caregivers, according to a hospital spokesperson.

PeaceHealth says as of Wednesday, one resident is still in a “higher level of care.” But the hospital declined to say whether any of its residents have died in the outbreak.

Information on COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatments is available at the statewide hotline, 646-3322.

This story has been updated.

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