11 new COVID-19 cases detected
Over the last two weeks, the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region saw 11 new cases of COVID-19, including two in Brevig Mission, one in St. Michael and eight in Nome. Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccinations have been expanded to Elders 65 years and older and some critical infrastructure workers.
A Nome resident who was a close contact of a known case tested positive on Wednesday, December 23, and then four more Nome residents – two close contacts, one traveler and one case of community spread – tested positive on December 24.
On Sunday, December 27, another Nome resident who was a close contact tested positive, and on December 28 a resident of a regional village tested positive while in Nome. That patient is isolating in Nome, and the case has been deemed community spread.
On Tuesday, December 29, another Nome resident, who had recently traveled outside the region, tested positive. A Norton Sound Health Corporation employee in Brevig Mission also tested positive. NSHC considers the case community spread.
On Wednesday, December 30, a travel-related case was identified in St. Michael, and on Friday, January 1, another case was detected in Brevig Mission, which was deemed community spread.
In response to the two community spread cases, Brevig Mission leadership has put the village in a two-week lockdown, prohibiting people to visit with anyone outside their household and calling for everyone in the village to get tested.
In a regular conference call on Tuesday, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said there were four known active cases in the region, two in Brevig Mission and two in Nome. He added that one of the cases currently in Nome was originally detected in a village, presumably the December 30 case in St. Michael.
COVID-19 vaccinations are continuing at the Nome hospital and in village clinics. Starting on Monday, December 28, NSHC opened vaccine eligibility up to certain critical infrastructure workers deemed “Group 1.” Group 1 includes daycare providers, K-12 teachers and support staff, grocery store workers, taxi drivers and airline workers that interact with travelers like pilots, TSA and gate agents. It also includes Postal Service workers, corrections workers including Seaside staff, staff of homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, Office of Child Services and Adult Services staff, and fisheries and seafood industry workers. In addition to Group 1 workers, vaccinations remain available for any frontline healthcare workers, emergency response personnel, and Elders 65 years and older who have not yet received their first dose of vaccine.
NSHC is also continuing to send vaccination teams through village clinics to administer vaccine to elders and essential workers there. In recent days, teams have visited Brevig Mission and St. Michael, and plan to visit Stebbins on Wednesday. Group 1 critical infrastructure workers are not yet eligible for vaccines in most regions around Alaska or the country, but Dr. Peterson explained that Nome has received a larger supply of doses per capita than other regions, which has allowed it to move down the priority list a little more quickly.
“We’re able to give vaccine a little ahead of the state guidelines simply because we get some IHS [Indian Health Service] allocation as well as the state’s,” he said on a regular conference call. He added, however, that NSHC was still waiting on more supply, and will probably need to receive more doses before vaccinations can be opened up to any additional groups.
Statewide, Alaska has counted 48,560 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 1,056 hospitalizations and 218 deaths.
As of Monday, the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region had counted 288 total positive cases, five hospitalizations and no deaths.