Virus outbreak halts intake at Alaska Psychiatric Institute

Alaska’s state-run psychiatric hospital has said the facility will not admit any new patients for two weeks after four patients tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Alaska Psychiatric Institute on Friday said the patients who were infected will be isolated in a separate unit away from other patients and treated by fewer staff to reduce the risk of further spread of the virus.

The patients will be required to wear masks, while staff who treat them will wear masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns.

It was not immediately clear when the patients received the positive test results or if they had virus symptoms.

Eight people connected with the psychiatric facility, including five patients and three staff members, have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic.

Staff have attempted to keep the virus at bay by enforcing social distancing, screening employees and contractors and requiring all new patients to have a negative test result before being admitted, the institute said.

Increasing confirmed coronavirus cases statewide, and particularly in Anchorage where the psychiatric institute is located, have increased the difficulty of keeping out the virus, CEO Scott York said.

“We’ve had mitigation plans in place since the beginning of this pandemic and we’ll continue to follow those strategies and any additional precautions the Section of Epidemiology recommend to keep our patients and staff as safe as we possibly can,” York said in a statement.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said facilities such as the Alaska Psychiatric Institute are at heightened risk because patients may be transferred from high-risk settings, while there are challenges in implementing prevention measures because of “complex patient needs.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.