Region sees five new COVID-19 cases
By Julia Lerner
Since last week, Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified five new COVID-19 cases in the region, bringing the total number of active cases in the Bering Strait to 12.
Four individuals tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, June 9, including three Nome residents and one Unalakleet resident. The three Nome cases are considered community spread, and the Unalakleet case is travel-related. The Unalakleet individual is an NSHC employee. All four individuals are safely isolating, and close contacts have been notified.
On June 10, a non-resident in the region tested positive for COVID-19. The case is travel-related, and the individual is safety isolating.
“We encourage everybody 12 and up to get vaccinated,” said NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson during a weekly COVID-19 conference call. “We have plenty of vaccine available, so people just need to sign up and get with our clinic.”
One concern, Dr. Peterson says, is the possible presence of COVID-19 variants in the region. Seven cases of the P.1 variant have been detected, and no other variants have been identified in Norton Sound. The Delta variant, which has ravaged India in the past several months, has made the jump over to the U.S. and is significantly more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain.
“The good news is that the vaccine works very well against [the delta] variant,” Dr. Peterson said. “But it’s really important that people get two doses of their Pfizer or two doses of their Moderna vaccine, which is the recommendation. Yes, there’s variants out there. The vaccines work very well against them.”
NSHC administered about 80 shots last week, representing about one percent of the region, though Peterson hopes the Nome Chamber of Commerce raffle will inspire more people to get vaccinated. The prize drawing offers up two $10,000 prizes from Wilderness Skidoo and Morgan’s as well as $1,000 shopping sprees from local businesses for people who were vaccinated after June 1. The prize drawing has caused some backlash on social media. Complaints included that those who got their vaccines as soon as they became available were not included in the prize drawing. Even though the Nome Chamber of Commerce and NSHC experienced a small amount of backlash from the community regarding the drawing, Dr. Peterson said, overall he has heard a positive response. “There’s very good enthusiasm for it,” Dr. Peterson said. “A fairly large number of people have signed up for the drawing and have done the survey. And we hope additional people take advantage of it.”
“It’s a great incentive,” Peterson continued. “There’s always going to be somebody who is perhaps not happy.”
In Nome, 62 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated, Dr. Peterson said. To reach herd immunity, more than 70 percent of the total population will need to be vaccinated. “We want to get to 70; that’s our goal,” Peterson explained. “It’s only 62 percent. We’ve got a ways to go.”
Eighty-four percent of Nome’s eligible population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Vaccines are currently available to anyone ages 12 and up at several locations throughout Nome, including the NSHC pharmacy, the airport, and the post office. Appointments and walk-ins are available at the pharmacy Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. Individuals arriving at the Nome Airport are able to receive the Pfizer or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines upon arrival. Pfizer and J&J vaccines are also available Monday through Friday, from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Nome Post office.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has had a total of 70,717 cases, 1,639 hospitalizations – currently 21 people are hospitalized- and 373 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
In Nome, the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 393 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.