Seven new cases identified in region
Seven new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the last week in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, with 10 cases currently active as of Tuesday.
The first two new cases were Nome residents who tested positive on Tuesday, January 12, although they were reported by NSHC on Wednesday. One was a close contact of a known case, and the other was deemed community spread.
On January 13, another Nome resident who was a known close contact tested positive, and on January 14 a regional resident tested positive in Shaktoolik. The Shaktoolik case is considered travel related.
Two more people tested positive in Nome on Friday, January 15. One was a resident and known close contact, and the other was a nonresident of the region who tested positive after recently traveling into Nome.
On Saturday, January 16, an NSHC employee in Brevig Mission tested positive. NSHC said in a press release that the employee had minimal patient exposure, and that all potentially exposed patients had been notified.
NSHC is currently facilitating community-wide testing in both Shaktoolik and Brevig Mission, alongside vaccination efforts.
On Monday, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said about 30 percent of people in the region over the age of 16 had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine. That included about 21 percent of Nome, and a range of proportions in regional villages. Wales and White Mountain had the highest vaccination rates, with 50 and 65 percent respectively, while Stebbins and Koyuk had the lowest, with 15 and 13 percent.
Dr. Peterson said NSHC was assessing why turnout had been low in certain villages and will coordinate public information campaigns and additional vaccine teams to boost those numbers. He added that “almost everyone” who received their first dose in the early days of vaccinations have come back on time for their second dose, with only two or three people out of more than 600 people missing the window for their second dose.
On Tuesday, NSHC announced that they were adding an additional vaccinator at the hospital so that more vaccines could be given per day. Last week they averaged about 100 doses per day, but going forward they plan to expand to 150 or 200.
Dr. Peterson also said NSHC was expecting another shipment of 975 doses of Pfizer vaccine in the next week or in two weeks. When that happens, they expect to send another wave of vaccination teams to the villages, and open eligibility in Nome to everyone aged 16 and older.
NSHC has been holding on to the necessary second doses, which are available at the hospital and will be distributed to the villages by vaccination teams in the coming weeks.
Vaccine rollout elsewhere in the country has looked markedly different. Alaska leads the nation with 1.59 percent of people fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, but most states have fully vaccinated only less than one percent. On Tuesday, the total U.S. death toll from the pandemic surpassed 400,000, after reaching 300,000 just five weeks ago. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, January 12 was the deadliest single day of the pandemic on record with more than 4,462 COVID deaths.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has recorded 50,572 total cases since the start of the pandemic, with 1,162 hospitalizations and 230 deaths.
As of Monday in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there were 303 total cases, five total hospitalizations and no deaths.