Bartlett Regional Hospital on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Bartlett Regional Hospital on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Bartlett hospital readies for cruise season and the diseases that may follow

Worry about the flu, not coronavirus.

A Bartlett Regional Hospital spokesperson announced Thursday that the hospital has plans in place for the coming cruise ship season and the COVID-19 outbreak, better known as the novel coronavirus.

“We could respond right now if we needed to,” said Charlee Gribbon, BRH’s infection preventionist. “The plan is to be ready and stay ready.”

The same release, however, stated that coronavirus isn’t the biggest threat on BRH’s radar.

“While the COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) outbreak has spread internationally and case counts continue to rise, no cases have been reported in Alaska and the risk of exposure to the virus remains low at this time,” wrote Katie Bausler, BRH’s community relations director. “We understand that the news of the Diamond Princess, quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, and the repatriation of Americans who were on board that ship, might spark concerns among Alaskans about our own preparations for cruise ship season.”

Quarantined cruise ships and concerns about their health aspects of the passengers on board has been a high-profile issue since the outbreak of the coronavirus. And Juneau is no stranger to cruise ships.

“Juneau has a robust tourist season, attracting people from all over the globe to visit,” Bausler wrote in the press release. “Conversations have already begun and are ongoing regarding how Juneau and other Southeast communities would handle a cruise ship that could potentially have passengers infected with COVID-19 on board.”

To that end, BRH and other health care centers in the Southeast are making sure they’re ready if a case does appear. Many cruise companies are building in preboarding disease screening for coronavirus, said Department of Health and Social Services chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink in a recent presentation to lawmakers, the press release said.

“Infection prevention and infectious disease management is what health care providers practice on a daily basis,” Bausler wrote.

The garden-variety flu is of greater concern for Juneau, Bausler wrote. More than 26 million Americans will catch the flu this season, resulting in 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths — nearly 12,000 more than the global death toll for the coronavirus as of Friday.

“Flu prevention measures and readiness will help keep our community resilient and our patients safe,” Gribbon said.

Flu vaccinations are the most effective method of preventing catching the flu, Bausler wrote, but washing hands thoroughly, avoiding the sick, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects, and covering one’s mouth are all also critical components of being healthy.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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