Nome reports 13 new cases of COVID-19
The region saw 13 new cases of COVID-19 this week, all of them in Nome. While no new cases have appeared in regional villages for weeks, new cases continue to steadily pop up in Nome as numbers surge in Alaska and the rest of the country.
While no new cases were reported last Tuesday or Wednesday, Norton Sound Health Corporation reported two cases on Thursday, December 10. One case was a nonresident of the region who tested positive after traveling to Nome, and the other case was a Nome resident, deemed the result of community spread.
On Friday, December 11, four new cases were detected, all of the Nome residents. Three were close contacts of other known cases, and one was the result of community spread.
Then on Sunday, December 13, NSHC announced five new resident cases. One was travel related, one was due to community spread, and the other three were close contacts.
On Monday, December 14, two more cases were detected. One case, a nonresident of the region, was deemed travel related and the other, a Nome resident, was a close contact of a previous case.
As of Monday, there were 16 active cases in Nome. NSHC reported two patients were hospitalized with COVID, bringing the total number of COVID-related hospitalizations in the region up to five, although they could not discuss the specifics of the new hospitalizations.
While active case numbers in Nome are down from the surge about a month ago, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson warned that residents of Nome should continue to wear masks and take distancing precautions, since the community spread cases show that the virus remains loose in town, and more people bring the virus in from Anchorage every week.
In Anchorage, the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived via FedEx late Monday night. A portion of those doses are scheduled to be sent to Nome via GoldStreak later this week.
The first round of vaccines will be administered in Nome, first to patients and staff of Quyanna Care Center, then to frontline medical personnel, and then to first responders like EMS, fire and police, collectively known as “Tier 1a”.
While the first shipment may not contain enough doses to vaccinate everyone in those groups who choose to take the vaccine, Peterson said NSHC would likely get enough Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all of Nome’s Tier 1a residents in the next few weeks.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration also reported that the vaccine made by Moderna was “highly effective,” and it is scheduled to approve the vaccine on Friday. Nome should then receive its first shipments of Moderna vaccine next week.
Much of that vaccine will go to regional villages, since the Moderna vaccine can better withstand the high vibration from flying in small aircraft. The first doses will go to health aides and other village clinic staff, and leftover doses may be given to Elders in villages as well.
On Thursday, Alaska health leaders are scheduled to meet and decide who will be eligible to receive vaccine in the next tier. Dr. Peterson said critical infrastructure workers like water and sewer operators, as well as state troopers, would likely be included in that category. He emphasized that the vaccines have been tested in tens of thousands of people and independent scientists have found them effective at preventing COVID-19 with no dangerous side effects. For those eligible, choosing to get vaccinated is especially important as case numbers continue to rise around the country.
In Alaska, 176 people had died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Case numbers have become so large that they’re difficult for the state to track and Alaska is now seeing at least one or two deaths daily.
“I think it’s really quite significant that every day we’re seeing a handful of people dying,” Dr. Peterson said. “I want to cheer everybody on to get the vaccine and not be too concerned about it.”
The federal government has promised to make the vaccine available to all Americans at no cost. Healthcare organizations that administer the vaccine are allowed to charge a nominal “administration fee,” but NSHC has said that it is not charging any fees at this time.
As of Tuesday, Alaska had reported 41,573 total cases, 889 hospitalizations and 176 deaths.
As of Monday in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there had been 271 total cases, five hospitalizations and no deaths.