Three new COVID cases detected in Nome
Norton Sound Health Corporation identified three new COVID-19 cases in the region this week, bringing the total number of active cases to five. All regional active cases are in Nome.
This week’s three new patients are all Nome residents, and all cases are attributed to community spread. The first was a NSHC employee who tested positive on Wednesday, March 17. The second was identified on Friday and the third on Monday.
All patients are currently isolating.
On a regular conference call, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said that while numbers in the region and throughout the state have declined since their height a few months ago, that decline was steadily leveling off. Alaska has seen between 100 and 200 new cases a day for the last few weeks.
He said the region was about 52 percent vaccinated, which is significantly more than the rest of the country, but every week that number only climbs by one or two percent. “It’s helping, our numbers are down, but it’s not going to go to zero until we get around 80 percent vaccinated,” he said.
NSHC currently has about 1,200 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 400 doses of Moderna vaccine sitting in its freezers, waiting for people to come in and get them, he said.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been more popular in recent weeks, especially in communities like Stebbins that had a low initial turnout for the first two vaccines.
People may be more willing to accept the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it doesn’t use mRNA technology, Dr. Peterson said, or because it’s only one dose and less of a hassle. But supply of Johnson & Johnson is low in the region – NSHC got a shipment of 100 doses on Monday, and is expecting 100 more doses in early April, but that may be the only supply the region gets for the rest of the month, because new doses tend to go to places where vaccine is in shorter supply.
“Don’t wait for the Johnson & Johnson. Get either Pfizer or Moderna now,” Dr. Peterson said. “We have enough doses to get the entire region vaccinated in one month’s time, if people step up.”
The company AstraZeneca, which has developed a single-dose traditional vaccine similar to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, announced that its vaccine appeared to be 79 percent effective in clinical trials, and submitted its data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for review. However, on Monday a federal oversight board accused the company of presenting incomplete data to cast its vaccine in a more favorable light, so it’s unclear when or if the vaccine may be approved. The AstraZeneca vaccine is not currently available in the U.S., and unlike the three available vaccines it has not been approved for emergency use by the FDA.
The state of Alaska has revised its alert level for some areas of the state. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Interior Region, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Anchorage Municipality and the Y-K Delta Region remain on high alert, with consistently high numbers of new cases.
Most of the rest of the state, including the Northwest region which includes Nome, is now on intermediate alert because of a decrease in new weekly cases. Only the City and Borough of Juneau and Southern Southeast Region are on low alert.
As of Tuesday, there have been 59,165 total cases statewide, including 1,329 hospitalizations and 308 deaths.
In the Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 327 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.
Reporting for this project was supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism