Four new cases detected in region
The Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region saw four new cases of COVID-19 this week, all of them in Nome. As of Tuesday, there are five active cases in Nome and none in regional villages.
The first two new cases were identified on Tuesday, March 30. One is a regional resident who had recently traveled from outside the region, and the other is a Nome resident who was a known close contact of another positive case.
The third case was identified on Wednesday, March 31, and deemed the result of community spread. Then on Monday, April 5, a Nome resident and NSHC employee tested positive, which was also determined to be community spread. The COVID patients are currently isolating in Nome.
Regional vaccinations were slow last week with just 103 new first doses administered, according to NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson. He attributed the slowdown to bad weather and delayed shipments of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
On a Monday conference call, though, he said NSHC was expecting 300 more doses of J&J vaccine this week. Some villages have already put in requests for the new doses, which he hopes will be sent out in the coming days. “If we really push hard this week, I think we can get two or even three percent of the region vaccinated,” he said.
As of Monday, about 54 percent of regional residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. That corresponds to about 70 percent of the population 16 and over, Dr. Peterson said.
With the new shipments of J&J vaccines, which can last in a regular freezer for months, Dr. Peterson said all village clinics should have a vial or two on hand by the end of the month. He also mentioned plans to have single-dose vaccinations available at the airport for incoming travelers.
On Monday, the City of Nome released new rules for incoming travelers. Those coming into the region fully vaccinated – two weeks after their second dose – are no longer required to test at the airport.
Travelers will need to show their vaccination card or other proof of vaccination to City officials at the airport to bypass testing. Unvaccinated travelers still need to either quarantine for seven days with negative tests on days one and seven, or quarantine for 14 days.
Testing will still be free and available at the airport, Dr. Peterson said, and any vaccinated person who wants to test voluntarily is still welcome to. He said NHSC employees will still be required to test when they arrive in the region.
He also advised that regional villages have their own rules for travelers, and most still require a negative test taken in Nome before traveling to the village. Travelers passing through Nome to other communities should contact their final destination for the most up-do-date travel rules.
Case numbers nationwide have started to increase after months of rapid decline, although hospitalization and death rates continue to go down. Experts have attributed much of this rise to the spread of more contagious variants of the virus, as well as lifted restrictions in some areas.
In Alaska, the majority of new cases has been around Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, where some viral variants have been detected. Dr. Peterson warned regional residents to be extra careful for the next two weeks, as people travel home from state basketball competitions in Anchorage and Wasilla.
“I think in these next two weeks we could see a bump in our cases,” he said. Especially for the unvaccinated, he said, it’s critical to observe strict travel quarantines, and everyone should continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has reported 64,081 total cases of COVID-19, including 1,421 hospitalizations and 313 deaths.
In the Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 333 total cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.