Nineteen new COVID cases, 15 in Stebbins

Nineteen new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in connection with the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region this week, 15 of which were in Stebbins as the outbreak there continues to grow. The first seven cases were announced on Wednesday, October 21 and were all residents of Stebbins. The following day, another two Stebbins cases were announced. A tenth Stebbins case was announced on Friday, October 23, and an eleventh on Sunday, October 25. Four more were announced on Tuesday, October 27, bringing the total number of cases associated with the Stebbins outbreak to 43.
Outside of Stebbins, two additional cases were announced on Thursday, October 22. One was a resident of Nome who tested positive in accordance with the city’s testing mandate for incoming travelers. The other was a regional resident who tested positive while in Anchorage and had not been in the region during the infectious period.
On Tuesday, October 27 another case was announced in Nome, a nonresident of the region who tested positive in accordance with the city’s mandatory testing for incoming travelers. The patient is currently isolating in Nome, and their close contacts are being investigated.
Another case was announced in St. Michael on Friday, October 23. The patient was not a resident of St. Michael, and it is unclear whether the case is connected to the Stebbins outbreak. Contact tracing is underway, and Norton Sound Health Corporation is working with village leadership to facilitate testing of close contacts.
NSHC’s asymptomatic testing facility moved indoors for the winter on Monday. Testing will now be available at the warehouse entrance to the NSHC Operations Building next to the hospital at 705 K Street, room 119. Yellow signs will be posted outside to direct people to the testing entrance.
Testing will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. the testing team will be at the airport facilitating tests for incoming travelers. NSHC has installed heated tents at the airport and is looking into other ways to increase the convenience of airport testing.
At the state level, Alaska saw another week of record case numbers, with 526 new infections announced on Sunday alone. The number of people currently in hospitals around the state jumped to 57 on Tuesday after averaging 30 hospitalized people for weeks. NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said on a regular conference call that the increased hospitalizations will most likely be followed by increased deaths.
 “I think a lot of these outbreaks are due to complacency and people getting tired of the pandemic,” he said. “I’d mark it as a sign we need to be careful and not get complacent.”
In response to the spike in case numbers, the state legislature has held a number of hearings in which public health experts have repeatedly recommended basic protective measures like mask mandates, capacity limits in public places and workplace safety standards.
Governor Mike Dunleavy, however, called the potential cost of public health mandates “astronomical,” and has so far refused to act on any of the recommendations, according to an Alaska House Majority press release.
Alaska had seen 14,798 total cases as of Tuesday, 7,712 of which were active. Hospitals had seen 407 COVID-19 patients, and there had been 70 deaths.
From the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there were 144 cases as of Tuesday. No regional patients had been put on a ventilator, and none had died.

 Funding for this coverage provided in part by a grant from the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism.

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