Four new COVID-19 cases found in region
The Bering Strait /Norton Sound region saw four new cases of COVID-19 this week. As of Monday, there were four active cases in the region.
The first new case was an incoming traveler who tested positive at the Nome airport on Tuesday, January 26. Then on Wednesday, a Norton Sound Health Corporation employee in Nome tested positive during routine employee testing. NSHC said the employee had “minimal patient exposure,” and both patients are currently isolating.
On Sunday, January 31, a resident of St. Michael tested positive. The origin of the case was unknown, and another St. Michael resident tested positive a day later. Village leadership has closed the school, gym and the road to Stebbins for at least seven days, and NSHC is assisting with widespread testing of the entire community.
The NSHC pharmacy began offering walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations this week. Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., anyone 16-years-old or older can walk into the pharmacy to receive a shot without an appointment, although 16- and 17-year-olds require a parent or guardian’s permission.
Only about 50 first doses are left in Nome, but NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said in a regular conference call that they were expecting a new shipment of 975 Pfizer vaccines and 400 Moderna vaccines – including first and second doses – to arrive sometime this week.
The Moderna and some of the Pfizer vaccines will be sent out to villages as soon as they arrive in Nome, he said. In the meantime, second doses continue to be delivered in villages where they’re needed. Peterson estimated that by the end of the week, 45 percent of people in most villages will have received their first and second dose.
The percentage of people vaccinated in each village varies widely. In White Mountain, 75 percent of people have gotten at least their first dose, while in Stebbins just 15 percent of people have opted to get the vaccine so far.
In Nome, Dr. Peterson estimated that about 40 percent of people have received their first dose. Vaccination rates among NSHC employees are significantly higher, with 71 percent of NSHC staff in Nome and 75 percent of staff in the villages having received at least their first shots.
Meanwhile, the rate of new cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. appears to be decreasing. While scientists are not sure what’s driving the decrease, some point to it as an early sign of widespread immunity due to vaccination.
However, new variants of the virus detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more infectious, and some may even be resistant to existing vaccines, so scientists warn the current downturn could quickly turn back into a spike if restrictions are lifted too quickly.
In Alaska as of Tuesday, 54,459 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. There have been 1,205 hospitalizations and 262 deaths.
In the Norton Sound / Bering Strait region, there have been 312 positives cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.