The City and Borough of Juneau has opened Centennial Hall as a quarantine facility and closed the Downtown Public Library as the number of confirmed cases among Juneau’s housing-insecure population continues to grow, the city announced.
Juneau’s emergency operations center carried out widespread testing at Housing First, AWARE and the Glory Hall on Friday, Oct. 9, executing 130 tests, the city said in a news release.
As results have started to return, nine tests from that set of tests have confirmed positives, bringing the total number of cases associated with that cluster to 31, said city manager Rorie Watt during a weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Many of you saw we reported nine new cases today and we reported our first death at Bartlett (Regional Hospital). That’s obviously a big deal for us and underlines the seriousness,” Watt said during a videoconference. “A lot of those cases are related to the homeless population, but not exclusively.”
As Centennial Hall comes online to act as an isolation facility for confirmed cases, Capital City Fire/Rescue is shifting the location of its sleep-off program — a program that allows chronic inebriates to sleep off their intoxication at a safe location — to another part of Centennial Hall in order to concentrate medical personnel for maximum effectiveness, according to the city.
Standing up Centennial
“Keeping all the COVID-positive people in one place is following best practices. The plan has always been Centennial Hall. It just took longer than we expected,” said Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Juneau general manager Dave Ringle in a phone interview. “I think some of the immediate travel mandates and the shut down and hunker down efforts made a difference. It got us to a point where we saw that mask-wearing did mitigate the disease.”
CCFR has performed admirably throughout the crisis, Glory Hall executive director Mariya Lovishchuk said.
“The real heroes of this scenario is the hospital and CCFR.They’re constantly communicating. They’re on the phone with the providers constantly,” Lovishchuk in a phone interview. “They’re being super proactive. They’re working with Public Health, reaching out to Anchorage to see how they handled this. They’re being real great with the folks experiencing homelessness.”
Glory Hall has taken measures to contain further spread at the facility, Lovishchuk said, including closing its day room, increasing circulation in the sleeping area and placing physical barriers to reduce further particle spread.
“We are struggling to find people for the staffing of Centennial Hall,” said EOC planning chief Robert Barr. “We managed to find enough this afternoon by the skin of our teeth.”
Finding bodies to do what may be a sensitive and challenging job is proving difficult, Watt said. The job of working with COVID-19-positive people, some of whom have behavioral issues, is not something that may appeal to many, Watt said. The quarantine facility will need to be manned at all times. And there are other challenges present as the rest of the state puts up growing numbers of confirmed cases.
“We are not changing our stance on things like elective procedures in the hospital, but we may,” Watt said. “Anchorage and the rest of the state are having some troublesome numbers so we do not know if we’ll have the option to medevac there.”
The library will continue to offer curbside pickups for books on hold, according to the city. The library will reopen once this cluster is better identified and contained.
First death reported at hospital
Bartlett Regional Hospital reported its first in-patient COVID-19 death on Tuesday.
The patient, a Juneau woman in her 60s, died early Tuesday morning, according to a news release from the hospital.
“Our team is deeply saddened by this passing and send our heartfelt condolences to the family,” said hospital incident commander and quality director Gail Moorehead in the release.
There are seven COVID-19 patients at the hospital, according to Watt. So far, the hospital has discharged 23 COVID-19 patients. Juneau has had 348 residents and 101 nonresidents test positive for COVID-19 since March, according to city data.
There are 45 active cases in the city and 401 people have recovered from the illness, according to the city. All people known to have active cases of COVID-19 are isolating, according to the city.
City and Borough of Juneau has reported two other COVID-19-related deaths. One was a man in his 70s living in a long-term care facility out of state who died in May. The other was a woman in her 60s who died in September. A third coronavirus-connected death had been reported, but it was later determined the woman had never been a Juneau resident.
City officials emphasized the importance of cooperation in minimizing risk of transmitting the virus.
“We create and we mitigate risk, all together and all the time,” Watt said. “We have to keep trying to get people to philosophically buy into mask wearing.”