No new COVID cases found in region
For the second week, there were no new cases of COVID-19 detected in the Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region. As of Tuesday, there were three active cases in the region, one in Unalakleet and two in Nome.
On Tuesday, Governor Mike Dunleavy and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink announced in a press conference that anyone age 16 or older in Alaska would be able to get a COVID vaccine, effective Wednesday, March 10. Alaska is the first state to open vaccinations up to everyone regardless of age or occupation. Dunleavy stressed multiple times that getting a vaccine is an individual choice. “For those Alaskans who don’t want to get a vaccination, I respect that,” he said. Although he has already contracted and recovered from the virus, Dunleavy said he would still get a vaccine to avoid “inconvenience” to himself and his family in case they were exposed or infected again down the line.
Dr. Zink said the move was a crucial step in getting as many Alaskans vaccinated as possible before seasonal workers started flooding in from out of state. The vaccine will also be available to workers and visitors to the state. “Soon this virus will be a preventable disease, if people choose to get vaccinated,” she said.
In a regular conference call, Norton Sound Health Corporation Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said that the entire region is about 48 percent vaccinated. Village communities range from 40 to 90 percent vaccinated, with an average around 60 percent.
Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman estimated that around 70 percent of eligible adults in Nome have gotten at least one dose of vaccine.
To encourage vaccinations in Nome, the City has started an evening vaccination clinic in City Hall three nights a week for the rest of March. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., shots will be available in the Nome council chambers.
Steckman explained that the clinic is open to everyone and intended for people who can’t make it to the hospital during regular business hours, don’t want to get vaccinated at the hospital, or live closer to City Hall than the hospital.
“If we want our community fully up and functional by this summer, we need to get people vaccinated,” he said. “That’s the focus: to get the city fully open and everybody safe.”
He added that the City’s vaccination goal is 90 percent of eligible adults.
Dr. Peterson said the region’s first shipment of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to arrive later this week with 200 doses. The J&J vaccine only takes one dose and was developed using traditional adenovirus methods – the same methods used for most flu vaccines – instead of the newer mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna. He said people who have been wary of mRNA vaccines or don’t want two shots can request the J&J vaccine by calling the hospital or their community’s clinic.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines pertaining to fully vaccinated individuals, meaning people who waited more than two weeks since their second dose of vaccine (or only dose, if they received the J&J vaccine). Fully vaccinated people can meet in small groups with other fully vaccinated people outside their household or “bubble,” the CDC recommendations said. In these small groups among the vaccinated, masks and social distancing are not necessary.
Vaccinated people can also meet indoors with unvaccinated people outside their bubble as long as they wear masks and stay six feet apart. However, they should avoid large indoor gatherings and continue to follow mitigation rules in public spaces like masking in stores.
In Nome and the region, the fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine if they have recently traveled outside the region or are a close contact to a positive case, as long as they’re not showing any symptoms. However, the City of Nome still requires all incoming travelers to take a COVID test when they arrive, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC estimates that just 9.2 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, compared to around 23 percent in Alaska, according to the state’s Department of Health and Social Services.
Dr. Peterson said that NSHC currently has more doses of vaccine than there are people wanting to receive it and encouraged all regional residents to sign up. He also said visitors and traveling workers are eligible to get vaccinated while they’re in the region.
As of Tuesday, there had been 59,675 COVID-19 cases in Alaska,1,298 hospitalizations and 305 deaths.
In the Nome, Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 322 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.
Reporting for this project was supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism