Ten new COVID-19 cases detected
By Julia Lerner
Since last week, Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified ten new COVID-19 cases in the region, bringing the total number of active cases to nine.
On Wednesday, May 26, NSHC identified a Nome resident who tested positive for COVID-19. The origin of this case is still being investigated. The patient is isolating and close contacts have been notified.
On Saturday, May 29, NSHC identified eight positive COVID-19 cases. One individual is a regional village resident, and the origin of this virus is currently under investigation. The other seven individuals are Nome residents, and are community-spread cases. All patients are safely isolating.
On Sunday, May 30, NSHC a Nome resident who tested positive for COVID-19 in a community-spread case. All close contacts have been notified.
NSHC says cases can move from active to closed in a matter of days. All nine active cases are currently in Nome.
Individuals who tested positive on Saturday attended events in Nome prior to diagnosis, including the outdoor Nome-Beltz graduation, an event at the Nome Covenant Church and Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.
Last week, the state identified three instances of the COVID-19 P.1 variant in Nome, though the cases are no longer active. Since then, no new P.1. cases have been identified.
Across the region, 54 percent of the entire population is fully vaccinated, and last week, NSHC administered more than 90 doses of the vaccine. In order to achieve herd immunity, more than 70 percent of the region will need to be fully vaccinated.
“Seventy percent of the community fully vaccinated is probably a pretty safe place to be,” said NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson. “Seventy percent seems to be the minimum. We’d like to achieve higher than that.”
So far, 77 percent of the eligible Nome population has received their first dose, and 74 percent of eligible Nomeites are fully vaccinated. Only 62 percent of the entire population of Nome is fully vaccinated, meaning the city is close to reaching herd immunity.
Emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-15 was approved in early May, and since then, a significant portion of that age range has received their vaccinations. 95 percent of Nome 12 to 15-year-olds have received the vaccine, and some regional villages report even higher percentages. Wales has vaccinated 100 percent of the community’s 12 to 15-year-old population.
“They’re not done,” Dr. Peterson said. “They’re going to continue to vaccinate. It’s great to see such high percentages.”
Vaccines are available at several locations throughout Nome, including the NSHC pharmacy, the airport and the post office. Walk-ins are available at the pharmacy Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. Incoming passengers at the Nome Airport are able to receive Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines upon arrival. Individuals can also get the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines Monday through Friday from 12-5 p.m. at the Nome post office.
The NSHC board voted to require its providers and employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our provider population is 100 percent vaccinated, and our general employee population is 90 percent,” according to Dr. Peterson. “A lot of healthcare facilities now are requiring COVID-19 vaccines just like the flu shot vaccine. We’re certainly not the first, and we won’t be the last.”
The hospital decided to mandate flu shots for its employees the first time this past year.
“A lot of health care organizations have had mandatory flu shot vaccinations for years or decades,” Dr. Peterson said. “We have never had that, but we did do it last year, and the vast majority [of the staff] got vaccinated.”
In the Lower 48 there is some pushback against mandated COVID-19 vaccines. Some hospitals face legal challenges arising from employer mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. However, there is no federal or state law that says NSHC, or any other private business, cannot mandate the vaccine, though around ten percent of NSHC employees remain unvaccinated, according to Dr. Peterson.
“Whether an employer may require or mandate COVID-19 vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has had a total of 67,507 cases, 1,610 hospitalizations (not including current stays) and 369 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
According to the CDC, Alaska has the lowest reported number of COVID-19 deaths across the United States. This week, Nome had one of the highest rates of positive COVID-19 tests in the state, according to Dr. Peterson.
In Nome, the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 378 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths since the pandemic began.