Eight new COVID-19 cases found in region
There have been eight new regional COVID-19 cases in the last week, including three in Nome and four in villages. There is also a regional resident who tested positive elsewhere in the state, bringing the total number of regional cases up to 42, with eight cases currently active.
On August 19 NSHC announced that a Nome resident working for Norton Sound Health Corporation tested positive during routine work-related testing. Then, on August 20, another patient in Nome tested positive in connection with the travel-related cluster that was first detected on August 11.
On August 21, NSHC announced three new cases. Two were residents of Diomede who are connected to the other Diomede case announced August 16. Because they had been known close contacts of a positive case, they were already quarantining when their test results came back positive. The third case is someone who has recently arrived in Nome and tested positive as part of the mandatory testing for incoming travelers.
Another case announced on August 22 was an NSHC employee who tested positive during routine employee testing. That patient is in a regional village, but they did not give NSHC permission to disclose which village.
Two new cases were announced on August 24. One is a nonresident in an undisclosed village who had tested positive the previous night, and NSHC believes the case is travel related. The other is a regional resident who tested positive while traveling outside the region. They had not been within the region during their infectious period.
In a regular conference call on Tuesday, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said that they had recently received a large shipment of rapid test kits and would be finalizing a new testing protocol within the next few days.
Because of the restored supply, recent travelers hoping to get out of quarantine with a negative test will have access to rapid testing under the new protocol. But Dr. Peterson said access to rapid tests may be restricted again if supplies run low or there’s a significant outbreak. He also said that NSHC would stop sending non-rapid tests to Alaska Native Medical Center, because backlogs there meant that some tests were taking a week or more to come back. Instead, NSHC will be sending tests to the Alaska state lab, which has an average turnaround time of 2.8 days, Peterson said.
Reba Lean, NSHC’s public relations manager, said that as case numbers have been increasing, some COVID-19 patients have been singled out by communities and were suffering mental and emotional distress. She emphasized the importance of not stigmatizing the disease. “When there’s negativity associated with a positive case, that really is harmful to our efforts to prevent spread in the region,” she said. Patients who are afraid of public ridicule are less honest about who they were in contact with. That impedes contact tracing efforts and only help the virus spread more quickly, she said.
Across Alaska, there were 5,666 total cases as of August 25, 4,843 residents and 823 nonresidents. Of those cases, 3,663 were still active and 1,967 were recovered. There were 40 people in hospitals and six people on ventilators across with state with COVID-19, and 36 people have died.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 42 total cases, with eight currently active. No patients in the region have been hospitalized with the virus, and none have died.