Seven new COVID-19 cases found in region

Seven new cases of COVID-19 were announced in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region this week, six of which were members of a single household in Gambell. This marks one of the largest single clusters in the region since the start of the pandemic. These patients bring the total number of cases in the region up to 65.
The first new case was announced on Friday, September 18. The patient was a regional resident travelling outside the region, and the person had not been in the region during the infectious period. The person is currently isolating and Public Health Nursing is investigating close contacts.
The other six cases were all announced on Saturday, September 19 in Gambell. One patient, a Gambell resident, had recently traveled and tested positive as part of the village’s mandatory testing for incoming travelers. During subsequent testing of close contacts, five more Gambell residents tested positive, all of them members of the first patient’s household.
On Monday, Norton Sound Health corporation sent a response team to Gambell to help facilitate the widespread testing of every individual in the community. They are currently working with Public Health Nursing and Gambell leadership to identify any other possible cases. As of Tuesday morning, no additional cases have been reported. The Gambell School has changed its operating status to red zone.
Some patients were also relocated to NSHC quarantine housing in Nome, because Gambell does not have adequate housing for all six patients to isolate away from other people.
 “We’re hopeful this is just an isolated household, and we think it is” said Gary Kulka, a NSHC primary care physician, on a regular conference call.
On Tuesday, September 15, a person was cited by the Nome Police Department for “violation of area-wide quarantine” on East N Street in Nome. This is the first time the NPD has issued a violation of the city-wide quarantine ordinance for COVID-19 patients, NPD Chief Mike Heintzelman said.
The person had tested positive for COVID-19 and was reported to the police by the hospital. The responding officer issued a ticket, which can be up to $500, and did not come into close contact with the patient. Heintzelman said officers have been near COVID-19 patients in the past, and are advised to wear a mask and gloves and keep their distance. If an officer does come into close physical contact with a COVID-19 patient, they must get tested and go into quarantine for at least seven days.
Heintzelman said the NPD aren’t patrolling the streets in search of quarantine violators, but that they will respond to calls and issue fines. “It’s not about us wanting to give tickets out. It’s about us wanting to keep the community safe,” he said. “Hopefully this is an isolated event and it’s not something that’ll be repeated.”
As of Tuesday September 22, there had been 7,886 total COVID-19 cases in the state of Alaska, 5,173 of which were still active. Total hospitalizations around the state were at 272, there were 14 people on ventilators and 45 people had died.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there were 65 total cases on Tuesday. No patients were on ventilators, 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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