First COVID-19 case confirmed in Nome
On Tuesday, April 14, the news arrived that everybody in the region had dreadfully anticipated: Norton Sound Health Corporation confirmed the first patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. According to NSHC Public Relations Manager Reba Lean, the patient is “safely self-isolating” at his or her home. Lean declined to identify if the patient is located in Nome or in any of the communities in the Bering Strait or Norton Sound region, but the state's daily COVID-19 update identified the patient's location as Nome. Lean said the patient had symptoms and presented him or herself to be seen and tested. NSHC notified the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services’ Epidemiology division, which takes over the investigation on who the person had been in contact with and they will be notified and asked to quarantine themselves. Clinton Bennett, spokesman for the Alaska DHSS also declined to identify the community of the case but the location was confirmed as Nome in the DHSS' daily update on Wednesday. “If this is a case confirmed positive today then as per the process of investigating/tracing cases, DHSS staff including epidemiologists and public health nurses as well as others are all working this case as we speak, as well as any other cases that may have been found positive today. This process can take some time and often does not always finish in a day,” he wrote on Tuesday to the Nugget. “As part of the investigation/tracing process DHSS staff are also working to figure out who needs to be notified as a close contact to the positive case. Anyone who needs to be contacted by DHSS staff will be contacted and instructed on what they should do if they are a close contact.”
NSHC’s Reba Lean said that the testing protocol has changed this week as new tests became available, including the capability of rapid testing. She said while in previous weeks testing was only available to those who had multiple symptoms, now testing is available to anyone who presents only one symptom such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, new-onset diarrhea, loss of smell or taste and other cold symptoms. Lean said NSHC can run 288 tests in Nome but will be receiving more of the rapid testing kits. There are also 600 test kits that require sending samples out of Nome for analysis.
A press release from NSHC said that “the region’s first case emphasizes the importance of following recommendations of social distancing and safe hygiene practices. NSHC encourages anyone who must leave their home to wear a face covering in public (cloth mask, scarf, Buff, etc.).”
The release also instructs, “If you are experiencing symptoms please contact the Nurse Call Line at 443-6411 or 844-586-8773. If you live in Nome, and are directed to come in to the hospital for testing, please use the rear entrance. If you are in a village, the Nurse Call Line staff will contact your local clinic to arrange testing and notify clinic staff before your arrival.”