ANCHORAGE – The Anchorage Health Department (AHD) and Municipality of Anchorage Emergency Operations Center (MOA EOC) have identified additional COVID-19 cases associated with an outbreak at the Brother Francis Shelter (BFS), a homeless shelter operated by Catholic Social Services (CSS). As of August 27, 2020, 60 guests and 1 staff member have tested positive for COVID-19.
AHD and the EOC, with support from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium's Epidemiology Center and Alaska Health & Social Services (DHSS) Section of Epidemiology, is leading the outbreak response.
All individuals who tested positive are in isolation at a secure and monitored location. The MOA EOC has expanded isolation facilities to house and care for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive with COVID-19.
“Once the Municipality learned of a COVID-19 case at BFS, we immediately began testing BFS staff and clients, and arranging to quarantine contacts," said Bill Falsey, EOC Incident Commander. “This is what we have been doing for the last six months, just on a larger scale. To prevent further spread of COVID-19 amongst our vulnerable communities, we're now testing all area shelters and service provider locations."
AHD is working with all providers who give services to those experiencing homelessness to test all guests and staff at all Anchorage shelters and soup kitchens and among individuals residing in homeless camps. Weekly testing will likely be needed for several weeks to identify people who test negative but who may be carrying the virus.
“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," said Dr. Bruce Chandler, AHD's chief medical officer.
CSS is working with the AHD and EOC to control this outbreak as quickly as possible and prevent further spread of the disease among guests at this shelter and shelters throughout the Municipality. The MOA has provided onsite consultation for CSS at BFS to provide support and recommend mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
All Anchorage shelters have been screening guests and staff for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms for months, but this outbreak was not recognized until widespread testing was conducted. Shelters have also been encouraging safe distancing and face coverings for all staff and guests. It is now critically important that shelters continue to strictly follow CDC guidelines to protect staff and guests.
CSS is working with AHD and the EOC to control this outbreak as quickly as possible and prevent further spread of the disease among guests at this shelter and shelters throughout the Municipality.
As a result of the outbreak, there have been five hospitalizations. Four have since been discharged with one still hospitalized.
“This outbreak will likely grow and as it does, more people may require medical care and hospitalization," said Dr. Chandler. “Health care providers should be on the lookout for people experiencing homelessness with serious illness."
Anchorage residents are encouraged to keep 6 feet from non-household members, wear a face covering in public settings, wash your hands often, avoid indoor gatherings, and keep your social bubble small. Anyone who feels even mildly ill is encouraged to get tested. If you test positive, please contact your own close contacts if you can, to minimize the time those people might be out in the community, potentially exposing others.
Barry Piser, Anchorage Health Department, firstname.lastname@example.org
Audrey Gray, Office of Emergency Management, email@example.com