Eight new COVID-19 cases in Nome
In the last week, the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region saw eight new cases of COVID-19, all of which were in Nome. The number is down significantly from the record-breaking 31 new cases in the prior week, but new cases continue to be identified almost every day. As of Monday, there were 25 active cases in Nome and 260 total regional cases since the start of the pandemic.
The first new cases were detected on Tuesday, December 1. One was a Norton Sound Health Corporation employee who had “minimal exposure to patient care,” according to an NSHC press release, and the other was a nonresident of the region who had recently traveled into Nome.
The cases were detected on Tuesday, but not reported until Wednesday, December 2. Reporting new cases the day after they’re identified has become the standard in the region since case numbers began spiking in Nome.
One new case was detected on Wednesday, December 2, which was a close contact of a previous known case. Another patient tested positive on Thursday, and the source of the case remains under investigation.
On Saturday, December 4, one more known close contact tested positive, and on Sunday, December 6, two more patients, one a regional resident and one a nonresident, tested positive in accordance with the City of Nome’s testing mandate for incoming travelers.
One additional patient tested positive on Monday, December 7. The patient was a resident of Nome who had not recently traveled, and NSHC attributed the case to community spread.
Nome has seen 93 cases since the most recent spike began in mid-November, 68 of which have recovered. Between 30 and 40 people remain in quarantine after coming into close contact with a positive case, and some of those are expected to test positive in the coming weeks.
Travel-related cases coming in from Anchorage are also on the rise as case numbers in urban Alaska continue to spike. The state has reported about 500 to 700 new cases every day for the last week, but NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said in a regular conference call that the actual statewide case count was likely much higher, and the state’s overloaded tracking system has had trouble keeping up.
Regional villages continued to see no active cases. Since mid-November, Bering Air has required all passengers traveling from Nome to a village to show proof of a negative test taken in Nome, which has reduced spread into smaller communities.
In Nome, however, Dr. Peterson said new cases would likely continue to crop up until a vaccine is widely available. “We’re not going to go two weeks without cases, simply because it’s too large of a population and we’ll get people coming from Anchorage with the virus,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to say with complete certainty that community spread is gone.”
Good news of a vaccine, though, does appear to be around the corner. The Pfizer vaccine is set to be approved within a week and the first doses could arrive in Nome as early as next week, although it will still be months before any vaccine is widely available in the region.
Statewide, Alaska reported 36,758 total COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with 827 total hospitalizations and 146 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 260 total cases, three COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and no deaths.