Four new COVID cases identified in Nome

Norton Sound Health Corporation identified four new cases of COVID-19 in the region this week, all of which were in Nome. As of Monday, there were five active cases in the region.
The first new case was an NSHC employee who tested positive on Tuesday, April 6. The individual had no contact with patients, and NSHC could not determine the source of the infection.
Then on Wednesday, April 7, NSHC identified three additional positive cases. One was a resident of Savoonga who tested positive while in Nome, and the other two were Nome residents who were close contacts of each other. All patients are currently isolating, and the source of the infections could not be identified.
NSHC delivered 216 new first doses of COVID vaccine last week, vaccinating another 2.3 percent of the region. As of Monday, about 56 percent of regional residents had received at least one dose.
Most of those new vaccinations were in regional villages where NSHC employees at the local clinics ran targeted advocacy campaigns, calling residents directly to help them get vaccinated. Elim, Golovin, Shaktoolik and Stebbins all saw significant increases in vaccination rates, said NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson on a conference call.
Many of the new vaccinations have been the single-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, but the Centers for Disease Control announced on Tuesday that they were recommending providers pause delivering the J&J shot.
Out of the roughly 6.3 million doses of J&J delivered in the U.S., six patients have developed dangerous blood clots in the weeks following their vaccination.
It is not immediately clear whether the incidents were caused by the vaccine or were coincidental, but the CDC and FDA recommended that providers refrain from administering the shot until they could investigate the matter further.
NSHC announced that it would pause the delivery of J&J vaccines soon after the CDC announcement, which will cause delays in recently announced vaccination efforts, including no-appointment vaccinations in village clinics and no-appointment vaccinations at the Nome airport.
The Pfizer and Moderna shots, which require two doses, have not been associated with any dangerous side effects and are still available in the region.
Case numbers continue to slowly increase in Alaska, as they are slowly increasing throughout the country. While viral variants have been identified in the state, including the variants first recorded in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, genomic surveillance has not detected these variants in unusually high quantities.
A report from the Alaska Sequencing Consortium last week showed 75 cases of coronavirus variants detected in the state, including 61 cases of the variant first identified in California. Alaska is currently sequencing between 20 and 30 percent of positive tests every week, significantly more than most other states.
While public health officials are watching the variant numbers closely, they stated in the report that the small number of variants was likely not the main cause of the state’s rising case numbers.
Rather, they have attributed the increase to changes in people’s behavior. As vaccines become more available and the end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, more people are mixing in group gatherings even if they’re unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, the report says. About 39 percent of Alaskans have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 30 percent are fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has reported a total of 62,681 COVID cases, including 1,448 hospitalizations and 314 deaths.
In the Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 338 total cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.

Reporting for this project was supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism

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