Six new COVID-19 cases detected in region
The Bering Strait/Norton Sound region saw six new COVID-19 cases this week, bringing the total number of cases in the region up to 175. The relatively slow week in the region comes amid huge surges elsewhere in Alaska and possible headway in vaccine development.
Stebbins had four new cases this week, one on Wednesday, November 4 and three on Thursday, November 5. The total number of cases in the Stebbins outbreak is up to 64, although less than 20 cases are currently active.
The slowdown is a promising trend in the village where the last few weeks had new case numbers in the double digits, but the community-wide lockdown will continue for at least three weeks after the last case is identified. Norton Sound Health Corporation CEO Angie Gorn said on a conference call that they were still expecting some more cases to emerge through the testing of close contacts.
Another case was identified in Elim on Saturday, November 8. The patient had recently traveled outside the village and went into isolation immediately after testing positive. NSHC send a medical response team to Elim to aid in the testing of close contacts. So far no further cases have been detected there.
A sixth case was identified in Nome on Monday, November 9. The patient is a NSHC employee who tested positive as part of the City of Nome’s testing mandate for incoming travelers and is currently isolating in Nome. A press release from NSHC stated the patient was not at work or in the region during their infectious period.
The rate of new cases in the state continues to accelerate, with 1,116 cases identified over the weekend, of which Saturday saw 604 new reported cases —the highest number in new cases in one day since the start of the pandemic.
In a Friday press conference, state health leaders warned that the state was headed for a crisis, with rising hospitalization rates running the risk of overwhelming the healthcare system if case numbers continued to grow at the current rate.
Also this week, Pfizer and German drug company BioNTech announced that preliminary data from clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccine suggested that the vaccine may be 90 percent effective.
The data has yet to be fully analyzed by an independent panel of experts, but the news could mean that the first COVID-19 vaccine can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before the end of the year.
Pfizer has said that it can make 50 million doses by the end of 2020, and 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. When a vaccine is approved, the first doses will go to healthcare workers and high-risk individuals like Elders and the immune-compromised before becoming available to the general public.
The potential vaccine requires two doses and becomes fully effective 28 days after the first dose. It also must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures of -94°F or below, leading to concerns about the ability of some communities to store and distribute it. It’s also not clear how long immunity from the vaccine will last.
Ten other vaccines are in currently in phase 3 clinical trials, and experts say it is likely that multiple vaccines may be approved in the coming months with varying degrees of efficacy.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has seen 20,832 total cases since the start of the pandemic, with 13,579 of those cases currently active.
There were 123 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals around the state, and 92 people have died. Monday saw eight new deaths reported, the highest number of deaths for a single day since the pandemic started.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region there have been a total of 175 cases since the start of the pandemic. No patients have been put on a ventilator, and none have died.
Funding for this coverage provided in part by a grant from the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism.