Two new COVID cases detected in region
Norton Sound Health Corporation identified two additional cases of COVID-19 this week, one in Nome and one in a regional village. There are currently four active cases in the region.
The first new case is an NSHC employee who tested positive in a regional village on Thursday, March 25. NSHC did not release the name of the village but said in a press release that “the patient has not recently traveled, and the source of the virus is unclear.”
On Friday, NSHC sent additional test analyzers and a testing team to the village to conduct community-wide testing over the weekend and this week, as well as additional doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for a targeted vaccination push.
The patient is currently isolating, and no additional positives have been found in connection with the case.
The second new case was identified on Saturday, March 27. The patient is a Nome resident who had recently traveled outside the region and tested positive after testing in accordance with the City of Nome’s travel mandate. The patient is currently isolating.
Last week another 1.5 percent of regional residents received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson. The region is currently about 53 percent vaccinated.
On Monday, Bering Air announced that they will no longer require a negative test from passengers before traveling from Nome to regional villages if the traveler is fully vaccinated. To prove vaccination, travelers should show their CDC vaccination card or a letter or email from NSHC confirming the date of their vaccination.
Dr. Peterson said NSHC would replace lost cards for free, and that a photograph or digital copy of the card would work just as well. He also said NSHC was working on getting the region’s vaccination data into the state’s new VacTrAK system as an alternate way to show vaccination.
The unvaccinated, or those less than two weeks from their second dose, still need to show proof of a negative COVID test taken in Nome before boarding a Bering Air flight to a village. However, they will now be allowed to wait in the Bering Air lobby while they wait for their negative result.
Dr. Peterson also said new CDC guidance about testing for vaccinated people would be forthcoming in the next week, and that the City of Nome would likely change its testing mandate for incoming travelers as a result. While the details of the new rules have not been released, he said certain groups of fully vaccinated people may not be required to test upon entering Nome. Vaccinated travelers already don’t have to quarantine for seven days after flying into the region.
On a Tuesday conference call, Dr. Peterson said NSHC had ordered another 200 doses of the single-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, which are scheduled to arrive either this week or next.
The J&J vaccine has been more popular than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the region in recent weeks, and while supplies are currently low, Dr. Peterson hoped that by late April or early May the J&J vaccine should be readily available in all regional communities.
Alaska’s new case counts continue to hover in the 100 to 200 per day range, mostly in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks and the Y-K Delta. There have been 62,248 total cases reported by the state as of Tuesday, including 1,381 hospitalization and 313 deaths.
In the Nome, Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 329 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.
Reporting for this story is supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism.