Active COVID-19 cases drop to 24 in the region
By Julia Lerner
As hospitals across the state set new records of hospitalized and ventilated COVID-19 patients, cases in Nome, Norton Sound and the Bering Strait are beginning to drop. As of Tuesday, there are 24 active cases in the region.
Over the last week, Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified 15 new COVID-19 cases in the region.
On Tuesday, August 31, three patients in the region tested positive for COVID-19, including two Stebbins residents and one Savoonga resident. The following day, five additional individuals tested positive: two individuals in St. Michael, two in Elim, and one in Stebbins.
Thursday, September 2, brought zero COVID-19 diagnoses.
Over the long weekend, seven people tested positive for COVID-19. Three individuals in Stebbins, two in Nome and two in Unalakleet were diagnosed between Friday, September 3 and Monday, September 6.
Currently, there are 24 active cases in the region, a significant decrease from this time last month, when the region had more than 100 active cases. Seven of the active cases are in Stebbins, four are in Elim, four are in Nome, three are in Unalakleet, two are in Little Diomede, one is in Golovin and one is in Savoonga.
The villages of Stebbins, St. Michael, and Little Diomede are in lockdown, and will remain so until the villages see 14 days without any new COVID-19 cases.
As cases across Alaska increase, so do the state’s efforts to inoculate eligible Alaskans against COVID-19.
Just last week, the Alaska Chamber launched a brand-new financial incentive program to encourage unvaccinated Alaskans to get the vaccine.
The program, called “Give AK a Shot,” will award $49,000 to nine vaccinated Alaskans over the age of 18, and $49,000 Alaska 529 scholarship accounts to nine vaccinated Alaskans between the ages of 12-17 over the next eight weeks.
All Alaska residents vaccinated in the state can apply, though more prizes are available for those receiving their vaccine after September 2. Eligible individuals must submit their entry to the drawing before September 11.
“We’re asking Alaskans to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to protect our economy and give Alaska a shot at recovery,” said Alaska Chamber President and CEO Kati Capozzi in a press release. “The COVID-19 vaccine protects lives and jobs, which is why we’re presenting rewards to Alaskans who get vaccinated. All Alaskans can protect themselves, their families and Alaska businesses to get our economy back on track, all while being entered to win $49,000.”
Though the available vaccines do not completely eliminate the chances of an individual getting and spreading COVID, they significantly reduce the risk of severe illness and death, according to NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson.
“If you do get COVID and you’re vaccinated, you’re risk of severe illness and death is really close to zero,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s very rare, and the vaccines do what they’re supposed to do. A vaccinated person is less likely to get sick and they’re not going to die. You cannot say that about the unvaccinated person.”
The state continues to see record-breaking numbers of hospitalizations, with hospitals in Anchorage and Fairbanks almost full. APRN reports that the Mat-Su hospital, which took in patients from rural areas who couldn’t find a bed in Anchorage hospitals, is no longer accepting new admissions.
A significant majority of COVID-19 related hospitalizations, ICU admissions and individuals on ventilators are unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, according to data from the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.
Between August 22 and August 28, there were 136 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 at Anchorage’s three acute care facilities. Of the 136, 110 were unvaccinated. Of the 33 patients in the ICU, 28 are unvaccinated. And, of the 18 individuals in Anchorage on ventilators, only one is vaccinated.
In Nome, Norton Sound, and the Bering Strait, the majority of eligible individuals have already sought vaccination. In Nome, 88 percent of eligible individuals are fully vaccinated, and most of the villages have more than 60 percent of their total populations fully vaccinated.
Only three regions across the state have higher vaccination rates than the Nome Census area, according to the vaccine monitoring dashboard administered by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula, Aleutians East Borough and the Skagway Municipality have higher rates of vaccination than Nome.
Booster shots are now available at the Norton Sound hospital pharmacy. “Appointments will be open to anyone who is at least six months past their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer,” according to a NSHC press release. “For people who received either Moderna’s or Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine series, a third dose of the same vaccine is recommended.”
In Nome, the Norton Sound Health Corporation regional hospital has 18 licensed beds available, though the hospital can increase the capacity when necessary to support up to 30 patients.
“We’re almost two years into this pandemic, and we haven’t needed that many beds,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s not going to happen.”
NSHC, like most critical access hospitals and all hospitals across western Alaska, does not have any ICU beds available.
“If someone needs that higher level of care, we will send them out,” Dr. Peterson explained. “If someone needed a ventilator, we have plenty of vents here, but we would transfer them to an ICU.”
Across Alaska, there have been almost 93,000 COVID-19 diagnoses since the pandemic began in March of 2020. Last week, 4,249 cases were diagnosed, including 443 diagnosed on Monday, September 6. There have been a total of 2,333 hospitalizations, including 186 patients currently hospitalized. Twenty-three patients are currently on ventilators, and 28 of 112 total ICU beds are available across the state. In the state of Alaska, 450 people have died of COVID-19.
In Nome, Norton Sound, and the Bering Strait region, NSHC has tested 14,000 patients for COVID-19, and identified 879 positive cases in the region, including 15 in the last week.
Twelve individuals have been hospitalized, and no one has died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.