Four new cases detected in region
Four new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the region this week: One in White Mountain, one in Nome and two in Koyuk. As of Monday, February 8, there were five active cases in the region.
The first new case was identified on Tuesday, February 2, as a resident of White Mountain. In response, White Mountain’s leadership limited school hours, temporarily suspended their Elder lunch program and began testing close contacts of the patient.
Then on Thursday, February 4, a resident of Koyuk tested positive. Village leadership took similar precautions, limiting capacity in the store and encouraging residents to hunker down until close contacts could be tested.
On Saturday, February 7, a nonresident of the region tested positive in accordance with the City of Nome’s testing mandate for incoming travelers. The person is currently isolating in Nome.
On Monday, February 8, a second resident of Koyuk tested positive. The exact source of infection has yet to be determined, but it is believed to be the result of community spread.
Those four new cases make up most of the cases currently active in the region, in addition to one case in St. Michael that was identified the week before.
Vaccination efforts continue around the region. Bad weather last week, plus a logistical slipup that delayed the delivery of new vaccines, slowed down rollout last week, but Norton Sound Health Corporation Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said on a regular conference call that new vaccinations should pick up in the next week.
Anyone in Nome age 16 or older is eligible to receive the vaccine free of charge. Those interested can stop by the hospital’s pharmacy during walk-in hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
People in Nome can also make an appointment to get vaccinated through the NSHC website. Anyone who gets vaccinated in the region is eligible to join the NSHC vaccination raffle – prizes include a free trip for four to Hawaii and $8,000 toward a new four-wheeler.
In regional villages, Dr. Peterson urged residents to call their local clinic if they wanted to get vaccinated. Vaccines may not be on hand in every single community, but NSHC is regularly sending new doses to villages that want them. He stressed the importance of calling clinics to get on their lists of people wanting the vaccine. NSHC determines where to send new doses based on those lists, he said, so the more people who call the clinic, the more doses will be sent to that village.
About 40 percent of adults in the region as a whole have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, although some villages like White Mountain have reached up to 75 percent vaccination. “In these village cases we’ve seen lately, we haven’t seen much spread to other people,” Dr. Peterson said. “And I’m hopeful that’s because of vaccination.” He added that pandemic-prevention measures like travel restrictions and social distancing need to be kept in place for the time being, but may be rolled back by certain villages as they exceed the 80 percent vaccination goal.
In the rest of the state and nationwide, case numbers continue to trend downwards, although experts warn that the spread of new, more infectious variants of the virus may reverse that trend and cause another surge.
Dr. Peterson emphasized that the best way to protect the region from these new variants is to get as many people as possible vaccinated. Anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to join NSHC’s regular conference call, Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m., at 1-800-315-6338, access code 03286.
As of Tuesday, the state of Alaska reported 53,809 total cases since the start of the pandemic. Of those cases, 1,223 people have been hospitalized and 280 have died.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 317 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.