No new COVID cases reported in region
By Julia Lerner
Norton Sound Health Corporation has not identified any new COVID-19 cases in the region in the last week for the first time since March of this year. Currently, there is one active case in the region, located in Nome.
While the low number of cases in the region is promising, NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson is not confident it will last.
“We have not had any cases in the last week,” he said during the weekly COVID-19 conference call. “We will get cases, so don’t expect that that’s the norm for our region. We just happen to not have any cases this week, but I’m sure we will be getting more cases and we’ll probably be getting outbreaks in certain areas where we’re not as well vaccinated. Thankfully, right now, we just have one active case in the region, and we certainly hope it stays low like that.”
One concern, Dr. Peterson said, is the presence of the Delta variant. The Delta variant was initially discovered in India, but has since spread across the world, and now represents more than half of all COVID-19 cases in the United States. It is particularly dangerous for unvaccinated populations, including those not yet eligible for vaccination.
“The Delta variant is spreading to those who are unvaccinated,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s catchy. So, there’s an increase in the number of cases across the country. There’s an uptick amongst unvaccinated people, like we’re seeing across the U.S, and we’re seeing it in our state. We’re just not seeing it yet in our region, but I suspect we probably will.”
Dr. Peterson stressed the importance of getting vaccinated in order to protect against the Delta variant. According to health experts, all three currently available COVID-19 vaccines protect individuals against the Delta variant, as well as other variants and the original strain.
Last week, NSHC administered 49 new vaccinations in the region.
Earlier in July, Nome hit the 70 percent vaccination benchmark needed for herd immunity, and vaccinations are still available at the Nome post office, the airport and the NSHC pharmacy. Several regional villages are also approaching the 70 percent benchmark, including Golovin and Wales.
In order to reach that 70 percent vaccinated, four residents of Golovin and three residents of Wales will need to get at least the first dose of a vaccine. Dr. Peterson is hopeful this is doable for the communities and will prevent future outbreaks.
“The vaccine is the cure,” he said. “I’m glad we’re doing better than the rest of the country. It is frustrating that people don’t just get the vaccine, but I think we’re doing everything that we can to create opportunities for people to get vaccinated.”
Researchers across Alaska are working to learn more about the variants present in the state, and this week, several University of Alaska biomedical researchers received a large grant to track variants.
The National Institute of Health is providing a $770,000 grant to researchers at UA-Fairbanks and UA-Anchorage in order to study, sequence and analyze COVID-19 variants in the state.
“The program will expand efforts in the state to include cases detected in Indigenous health networks and provide a way to share information about ‘variants of concern’ throughout the health system,” according to a UAF press release about the grant.
Across Alaska, there have been a total of 72,899 COVID-19 cases — 436 residents and 20 non-residents tested positive over the weekend, 1,791 hospitalizations —68 are currently hospitalized— and 381 deaths.
In Nome, Norton Sound and the Bering Strait region, there have been a total of 408 COVID-19 cases, 8 hospitalizations and zero deaths.
UPDATE: Just as the Nugget went to press, NSHC has reported five new cases and the following day another five cases, bringing the number of active cases as of July 22 up to 11.