The Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Homer News file photo)

The Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Homer News file photo)

2 staff at Homer assisted living facility test positive for COVID-19

No residents have tested positive yet

Two staff members at the Friendship Terrace assisted living home in Homer have tested positive for COVID-19.

Homer Senior Citizens Inc. Executive Director Keren Kelly confirmed in an email on Thursday that after the first staff member tested positive, other living home staff and residents who were close contacts were tested, which resulted in a positive test result for one additional staff member. Homer Senior Citizens operates the assisted living home that is part of the Homer Senior Citizens Center complex.

According to a press release from Homer Senior Citizens, Kenai Public Health Center notified Homer Senior Citizens on Wednesday that a staff member tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARs-CoV-2. Kenai Public Health nurses were used for this situation because the Homer Public Health nurses were busy dealing with the positive cases identified this week on the state ferry Tustumena, Kelly said in a follow up interview.

The staff member had complained of not feeling well, and following Friendship Terrace protocol, the person was sent to South Peninsula Hospital for testing.

Friendship Terrace staff and other living home residents who were identified as close contacts of the staff member were tested using the hospital’s rapid testing machine. One additional test came back positive for a second staff member, but all the rest were negative.

All remaining residents have also now been tested, but those test results have not come back yet. Residents have been asked to remain in their apartments until they have a negative test, according to the press release.

The two staff members who tested positive will not be allowed back to the living home until they test negative. They also were instructed to follow guidelines by Public Health. Kelly said Public Health nurses are investigating the cause of the infection.

“We’ve tested so many employees. They all come back negative. This is the first time,” Kelly said in the follow up interview. “It might be because the state opened up. You’ve been around town. You don’t see anybody wearing masks.”

Since the start of the pandemic in early March and a state mandate issued on March 12, the Homer Senior Citizens Center has been adhering to those mandates, Kelly wrote in the press release. No visitors have been allowed in except qualified medical workers. All deliveries are made at curbside. Staff have been screened daily for temperature, symptoms and factors like travel. Staff wear gloves and masks when interacting with residents. Residents also were asked to wear masks when not in their apartments and when a staff member is present.

Congregate meals and adult day care services were closed on March 13. Homer Senior Citizens Center has distributed almost 4,500 meals to seniors in the community, according to the press release.

The press release also states that any staff who can work from home should continue to do so. In a phone interview, Kelly said that includes herself. Staff that do not provide direct care are restricted in access to residents. Direct-care staff will continue to wear masks and gloves while providing care. Staff also have been advised to follow Homer Senior Citizens Center’s COVID-19 plan when not at work “directing them to follow all precautions as if everyone is infected,” the press release said. “They must wear masks and practice the social distancing recommendations.”

Kelly encouraged people in the community to also wear masks and follow social distancing.

“We shouldn’t see that many people in town without masks,” she said. “… It’s like a slap in the face (with) all this work we do to keep residents safe. … It’s not a thing to mess with. It’s not. It’s so contagious.”

Kelly said that despite the restrictions, residents have been coping well.

“It’s excruciatingly painful for the families,” she said. “The residents I can tell you are handling it very well. They’re more concerned for their loved ones catching it than them. They’re loving parents.”

Jenny Carroll, the city of Homer public information officer, has a mother living at Friendship Terrace. Speaking as a family member and not for the city, Carroll said she had received an email from Homer Senior Citizens on Wednesday informing families of the situation. In her role as a family member, Carroll provided confirmation of positive cases at Friendship Terrace when the Homer News contacted her for more information from the city’s Emergency Operations Center. Several other family members of Friendship Terrace residents also contacted the Homer News about the positive cases.

Carroll said the small size of Alaska’s population can play a role in how COVID-19 spread.

“It’s dependent on the uniqueness of the situation — how soon it is caught,” she said. “All these incidental things that can make it a nothing or a something. I hope it’s a nothing.”

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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