COVID cases rise across the region
By Peter Loewi
The infection wave of the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and 5 is sweeping through the state, causing the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the country. It now appears to have hit the Nome Census Area, with the highest number of active cases in the region since mid-April.
The BA.4 and 5 variants became dominant in Alaska last month, according to sequencing data released on the Alaska COVID Variants Dashboard. As of the week starting June 19, the two variants made up 63.85 percent of all sequenced cases. This is faster than the national average; at the same date, data from the CDC says they represented on 39.9 percent of all cases. As of last week, the two variants accounted for over 80 percent of all cases sequenced in the country, suggesting an even higher percentage of cases in Alaska, which updates its sequencing data less frequently.
While the variants are hypercontagious, they do not appear to be more dangerous. Head of Vaccine Research at the Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical research and health care center, Dr. Gregory Poland, wrote in a blog post: “Let me make a clear, clear point here that's a little tough to hear: Whether you've been vaccinated, whether you've been previously infected, whether you've been previously infected and vaccinated, you have very little protection against BA.5 in terms of getting infected or having mild to moderate infection. You have good protection against dying, being hospitalized or ending up on a ventilator.”
Preventing the spread of the virus remains crucial to prevent further variants and a seemingly endless cycle of mutation and reinfection. Masking indoors, distancing, and testing remain effective public health measures, even as emergency declarations have ended. The City of Nome continues to offer free masks and at-home tests.
While the subvariants appear to be less dangerous, they could hardly be called safe. Last week, after several weeks of verification making the count look smaller than it actually was, 24 new COVID-19 deaths were reported by the Alaska Department of Health, a new department split out of the old Department of Health and Social Services.
According to a weekly data summary from the health department, “the deaths occurred during the months spanning from January 2022 to June 2022. COVID-19 deaths are commonly reported in batches after death certificates are reviewed.” There had not been deaths reported in over two months, despite case rates and hospitalizations remaining among the highest in the country for most of that time. The largest outbreaks remain in non-residents on cruise ships, and those cases are spreading to the communities that tourists visit. However, as of Monday, July 18, the CDC has stopped reporting cruise ships’ COVID outbreak status.
The week in numbers:
On Tuesday, July 12, Norton Sound Health Corporation identified two new cases. Nome and Unalakleet each had one new case. This made for seven active cases in the region, of which five were in Nome and two were in Unalakleet.
On Wednesday, July 13, NSHC identified three new cases. Two of the cases were in Nome, and one was in Elim. Active cases in the region remained at seven, though their locations changed. There were four active cases in Nome, two in Unalakleet, and one in Elim.
On Thursday, July 14, NSHC identified one new case in Nome. The number and location of active cases in the region remained the same.
On Friday, July 15, NSHC identified eight new cases in the region. Seven of the new cases were in Nome, and one was in Unalakleet.
On Saturday, July 16, NSHC identified four new cases in Nome.
On Sunday, July 17, NSHC identified three new cases in Nome. There were 14 active cases in the region, 13 in Nome and one in Unalakleet.
On Monday, July 18, NSHC identified 10 new cases of COVID-19 in the region. Three were in Nome and seven were in Elim. There are 24 active cases in the region: 17 in Nome, one in Unalakleet and six in Elim.
Since the start of the pandemic the United States of America has had 89,757,004 officially reported cases of COVID-19 and 1,024,426 associated deaths.
The state of Alaska has had at least 266,699 resident cases and 14,908 non-resident cases, 3,798 hospitalizations, and 1,275 deaths. There are currently 67 people hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Nome, the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region has had at least 6,113 cases, 46 hospitalizations and six deaths.