As Juneau’s COVID cases skyrocket, hospital staff also test positive

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A care provider, wearing several types of personal protective equipment tracked by the State of Alaska, is providing care in 2020, to a woman hospitalized in an isolation room in the hospital’s intensive care unit Bartlett, in Juneau. As of August 6, 2021, four people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospital, two are critically ill and need supplemental oxygen. (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau is seeing more cases of COVID-19 among its staff as the number of infections in the capital rises and the community’s risk level returns to high.

“Our infection rate has increased in the hospital, as well as in the community. And we’ve seen it on every level, ”said Charlee Gribbon, infection prevention specialist at Bartlett. “Infection at the community level is equivalent to what happens in the hospital because we are members of the community. “

The hospital has a 90% vaccination rate, she said. There are 75 unvaccinated staff across all departments, from doctors and nurses to mental health clinicians and administrative staff.

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Gribbon said eight Bartlett health workers tested positive for COVID-19 in July alone. So far this year there have been 16 cases. In contrast, over the whole of 2020, only 12 hospital employees tested positive.

A woman and a man are talking into microphones in a room, both wearing headphones.
Charlee Gribbon, infectious disease prevention specialist at Bartlett Regional Hospital, and Adam Crum, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, answer questions about the coronavirus for a special KTOO News program on March 5, 2020 in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

Gribbon said the rise is because the delta variant is much more infectious and because both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can get it. Plus, she said, people are mixing socially a lot more now than in 2020. People are arriving by planes, cruise ships are coming to town, and restaurants and summer camps are open.

“I watch for symptoms and test people on very weak symptoms. Our test threshold is very low. So what this translates to (is) the amount of response from the hospital, at least in the employee health part, is testing our employees much more often, ”she said. “So that’s what I do, I test a lot.”

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Gribbon estimates that she tests around 10 employees per day.

The hospital is examining patients and visitors with the same questions it has been using since the start of the pandemic. Masks are always mandatory.

Visitor policy has changed, however. Now patients are only allowed two visitors throughout their hospital stay – and they must be the same two visitors. Previously, patients were allowed two visitors at a time, but as many different visitors as they wanted.

As of Friday, there were four COVID-19 patients in Bartlett. Of these, two were seriously ill and required high levels of supplemental oxygen. If they need to be intubated, they will be sent to Anchorage or Seattle for treatment.

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