Alaskan interior’s unified incident commands prepares Carlson Center in case of surge of coronavirus cases

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Alaskan interior’s unified incident command (UIC) has prepped the Carlson Center as a spillover center in the event of a surge of COVID-positive cases.

The Carlson Center is being prepared for a surge in COVID-positive cases. Although healthcare experts cannot speak as to where Fairbanks falls on COVID case models, they say that current social distancing efforts are not doing enough to flatten the curve in Fairbanks. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

“Over the past few weeks, our number one priority for our community and unified command was to get an alternate care site set up,” said Foundation Health Partners (FHP) Chief Operating Officer Clint Brooks, one of the joint commanders of the UIC. “And we have done that at the Carlson Center.”

The center is currently set up with 97 beds, but that number will be expanded to 100, and will accommodate lower-risk patients with COVID-19 illness. This design is intended to free up the hospital’s expanded ICU capability of 26 beds to accommodate more grievously ill patients.

“Our hospital has been preparing also for [a] surge,” said Brooks. These preparations include a separate COVID-positive ward of the hospital from a medical/surgical floor, in addition to the expanded ICU. “This is all to protect our patients, and our staff, so that we know where our positive patients are, and the non-positive patients are.”

The Carlson Center will be activated only in the event that the hospital can no longer handle the volume of patients in need of treatment.

“The Carlson Center setup has been planned for a long time. We’ve been working on this for 20 years,” said Brooks. He elaborates that these plans had been structured in the aftermath of the SARS outbreak of 2003 and H1N1 pandemic of 2009. He indicated that a two-day exercise had been conducted at the Carlson Center.

“We were able to have a lot of grant money after 9/11, and we were fortunate enough to be able to stockpile lots of PPE and equipment to support operations in the Carlson Center,” Brooks continued. He emphasized that these precautions were necessary due to Fairbanks’ remoteness and position in global supply lines.

“We’re preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best,” Brooks said, regarding the necessity of a spillover site. “I think we would be remiss if we did not prepare for the worst. There’s been a lot of models out there of what to expect, and I don’t think we really know. So, we’re preparing for the worst.”

“We’ve been watching very closely the number of positive cases that we’ve had in our region. We’ve been very concerned about the number and that we keep having positive cases,” said Dr. Angelique Ramirez, Medical Director of Quality with FHP. She indicated that it was unclear from modeling where Fairbanks is currently headed with regards to numbers of cases.

“However, preliminary, what we’re looking at is…we really need to do a better job with social distancing,” she said. “We’re still in the early phase where what we do now can have a huge impact for the future, but at this point in time…we are not having enough of an effective impact to be able to be confident to say that we’re flattening the curve to the degree that all of our community wants.”

Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy made the Carlson Center available to the hospital in a March 26 emergency order using the power granted him by a declaration of public emergency.

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