Petersburg reports large COVID outbreak at borough’s assisted living facility

(Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The Petersburg borough is reporting a large COVID-19 outbreak among residents and staff at its assisted living facility.

As of Feb. 14 ,the outbreak at the borough’s Mountain View Manor assisted living wing involved one death and at least 10 people testing positive. The assisted living facility has 20 apartments.

The first case popped up on Feb. 10, when a tested positive after reporting cold-like symptoms, body aches and an upset stomach. In an email, administrator Shelyn Bell said that the person had not traveled recently but had been circulating in the community.

Medical professionals assume these cases are the omicron variant because it’s been the dominant strain in the state since early last month.

Bell says she and her staff are working with the Petersburg Medical Center and have notified all residents and their guardians.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said most of the people who have tested positive are vaccinated.

“It appears vaccinations really do help limit the severity,” Giesbrecht said Tuesday. “These were many people that are older and sometimes have health issues, and we’re seeing with just the one exception, very light symptoms. Doesn’t make it any less serious, but we definitely are happy that so many of the residents chose to be vaccinated.”

This is the largest outbreak of the pandemic for the borough’s assisted living facility. So far during this outbreak, no cases have been reported in the elderly housing part of the building. But there have been cases reported in that wing over the past two years.

Giesbrecht said the borough is taking steps to limit the spread of the virus.

“We’ve basically quarantined everybody to their rooms and cancelled all the congregate, you know, the meals and things like that, till we get a better handle on it,” he said. “We’ve gone through and tested all the residents, and we’re in the process of testing all the employees. And you know there’s back and forth as far as in some cases people as residents can say that they don’t want to be tested, but I think we’ve had pretty good luck getting the majority of everybody tested.”

The borough assembly voted down a mandatory testing program at the facility in late 2020 after staff spoke out against the requirement. Bell writes that employees are strongly encouraged to get tested. If they refuse they are required to wear an N95 mask at all times.

As of Tuesday, visitors are not allowed at the facility. Bell writes they would make an exception for an end-of-life situation. In keeping with state regulations, residents are allowed to leave the building.

A couple of manor staff members are among those testing positive. Bell said that the manor has been short on staff for over a year but has enough employees to meet state requirements. Healthy workers are stepping up to do double shifts and fill in when needed.

Petersburg Medical Center has been helping with testing and treating some of the people who’ve tested positive at assisted living with monoclonal antibodies.

Petersburg’s COVID dashboard maintained by the medical center showed 13 active cases in the community as of Feb. 14., but CEO Phil Hofstetter said the cases at the manor may signal an increase locally.

“It’s sort of a waiting game,” Hofstetter said. “We don’t really know. We can’t predict obviously. We weren’t sure if we were just seeing just enough positives to kind of skirt the high peaks that most communities have been seeing, but with this outbreak I’m pretty concerned that we’re going to see a surge. So I encourage community members to follow mitigation protocols, masking and distancing, obviously up to date vaccines, including the booster, all those things that we’ve been talking about.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services categorizes Petersburg and every other part of the state on high alert because of the number of cases.

KFSK - Petersburg

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