Heritage Place closes to visitors after 2 employees test positive for COVID in last week

Tables in the dining room of the Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility are arranged for social distancing. (Photo courtesy Sandi Crawford)

The Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility was forced to close to visitors twice in one week after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the external affairs director of Central Peninsula Hospital said Wednesday.

Bruce Richards said that everyone at Heritage Place — which is part of the Central Peninsula Hospital — will undergo two rounds of COVID testing three days apart following the two confirmed cases among the staff.

One Heritage employee tested positive July 8, and another tested positive Tuesday, Richards said. The facility was closed July 8, then reopened Tuesday only to shut down again later that day.

As of Wednesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District reported that the central peninsula has retrogressed to the high alert level with a 14-day total of 54 new COVID cases. The state is still in the intermediate risk category.

Richards said Wednesday that just above 50% of all Heritage Place staff are vaccinated against the coronavirus, which is pretty consistent with the boroughwide average. According to the state Department of Health and Social Services, 44% of Kenai Peninsula residents 12 and older were vaccinated as of Wednesday, which is lower than the 51% statewide average.

When it comes to Heritage Place residents, Richards said the number of vaccinated individuals is much higher — somewhere in the mid-80s.

“We’re always concerned, but because of the high vaccination rate it certainly helps with the comfort level,” he said.

Still, he said most everyone at the Central Peninsula Hospital is encouraging Heritage Place employees to get their shots.

“Everyone here knows the vaccine is available,” Richards said. “We continue to encourage that.”

But he said he thinks nearly everyone who wants a jab has already received one, and that Heritage staff and residents are following statewide trends in vaccination.

“I think it’s a point of diminishing margin,” Richards said. “The hospital is no different than any other place in the community.”

If any staff member or resident tests positive for COVID-19, Heritage Place’s doors immediately close to visitors. Residents who test positive are quarantined inside the facility and employees who test positive are sent home, and then everyone must go through the rounds of testing.

The facility had to make adjustments in procedure and visitation all throughout the pandemic, and residents have only been able to hug their loved ones since March of this year.

Richards said with the delta variant circulating in Alaska, he hopes people will make the choice to get their shots.

As of July 9, the DHSS reported that there were another 24 delta cases confirmed by state genomic surveyors, bringing the statewide total to 37. Health officials have said this is a variant of concern because it appears to be more transmissible and cause more severe coronavirus disease.

“I would encourage people to reconsider vaccination,” Richards said. “It’s really our last defense.”

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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