Dr. Zink and Department of Corrections staff discuss COVID-19 cases with Juneau Assembly
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink says 16 people are part of a cluster of COVID-19 cases that involves Lemon Creek Correctional Center (LCCC) employees. Eleven LCCC officers and five household members of these officers have tested positive since April 9. But Dr. Zink says she wouldn’t characterize the cluster as LCCC cases; rather, she considers them community cases.
“These are really more community cases than they are [Department of Corrections] cases specifically because they are people who are in the community who just happened to work at a Department of Corrections facility rather than an outbreak within the correction facility itself,” Dr. Zink said.
She and several staff members from the Alaska Department of Corrections spoke to the Juneau Assembly and fielded questions at the beginning of last night’s Regular Assembly Meeting. Jeremy Hough, DOC’s Division of Institutions Director, said the virus started out in the community and came into the facility, likely through a staff member. Cumulatively, 30 individuals in Juneau have tested positive for COVID-19 since March.
Dr. Zink emphasized the importance for Juneau to continue following preventive measures: “The reality is this is in the community and we need to be staying six feet apart, we need to be hand washing, we need to be wearing masks when we’re in public with each other, we need to keep those contacts to a minimum because, as you can see from this outbreak and others, it can kind of silently spread and then bloom into something larger — and that’s the best way that Juneau can protect itself.”
Two COVID-19 cases in Juneau, which are part of the cluster, were reported by the state on May 12. That led DOC to test everyone in LCCC late last week. An additional 62 LCCC employees were tested as part of that effort — 61 were negative and one was positive. The positive case was reported by the state on Sunday. According to Dr. Zink, 165 inmates have been tested. Of those, 26 have come back negative and 139 are pending.
The newest case reported May 17 and the recent ones reported May 12 are linked to that first case of a LCCC staff member reported April 9 and the subsequent COVID-19 cases that followed soon after that. Dr. Zink said, though Juneau had a long period of time with no reported cases, all the LCCC related cases are all part of the same cluster. She said outbreaks can last a long time.
“When we look at other countries, other cities, other states, you get these incredibly long tails of disease outbreak because it can take a really long time for symptoms to show up and for people to be identified within it, and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Lemon Creek,” Dr. Zink said.
DOC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Lawrence said the outbreak will be considered complete once 28 days – or two incubation periods – have passed since the last known exposure. That date changes as investigations and contact tracing continue.
LCCC Assistant Superintendent Daryl Webster advises that a robust cleaning regimen and COVID-19 protocols are in place at LCCC for both inmates and staff, including:
- Employees are screened every day, including a temperature check.
- Any staff exposed to COVID-19, symptomatic, or subject to travel quarantine can’t report to duty until cleared by medical authorities.
- Staff and inmates have been issued masks manufactured by DOC. Staff are being fitted for N95 masks.
- Staff and inmates are trained to report symptoms immediately.
- Inmates are issued personal soap, living areas have hand soap, and laundry is done daily.
- Inmate housing units are kept apart to the extent possible.
- In-person visits for inmates have been cancelled; all inmate gatherings have been cancelled.
- Inmates are briefed regularly and kept abreast of staff who’ve tested positive.