Twelve active COVID cases in Nome
By Julia Lerner
Since last week, the Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified ten new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active cases in the region to 12.
On Wednesday, June 2, an individual tested positive for COVID-19. The person is a Nome resident, acquired the virus through community spread and is safely isolating. Close contacts have been notified.
A second person tested positive in a community-spread COVID-19 case on Thursday, June 3. The individual is a Nome resident and is currently isolating.
On Friday, NSHC identified two additional community-spread COVID-19 cases in Nome. They are safely isolating, and close contacts were notified.
On June 7, NSHC identified six positive COVID-19 cases. All patients are residents of Nome, and the source is considered to be community spread.
Cases are considered active for ten days following diagnosis, so when individuals are no longer quarantined, their cases become closed or inactive. This week several cases were closed, meaning Nome jumped to 18 active cases on Monday, June 7, and with the closing of seven cases, dropped to 12 active cases on Tuesday, June 8.
“We are seeing an uptick of cases,” said NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson. “What we’re seeing in our region and across the state is unvaccinated people. That’s who is getting infected. The P.1 variant is in our region, and we highly suspect that’s one of the causes of the increase in numbers, because it’s just much more infectious.”
In addition to identifying the nine new COVID-19 cases, NSHC learned of several closed P.1-variant cases. In May, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services informed NSHC of three COVID-19 Nome cases that contained the P.1 variant, a COVID-19 variant originally discovered in Brazilian travelers in Japan. The variant is 60 percent more easily spread than the original virus, and has mutations that allow it to potentially evade immunity, according to NSHC. Since the initial discovery in mid-May, ADHSS has tested all of Nome’s positive cases in May and identified four additional P.1 cases. All seven P.1 cases are not active.
Due to the greater infectious rate of the P.1 variant, NSHC expects to see a higher number of COVID-19 cases this summer. The current vaccines have proven effective against this strain of virus, especially the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna.
Across the region, 61 percent of the entire population has received at least the first dose of a vaccine. In order to achieve herd immunity, more than 70 percent of the region will need to be fully vaccinated.
“We are 9 percent away from meeting our herd immunity goal, when things may safely reopen and return to normal,” NSHC posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon.
In Nome, 69 percent of the total population has received their first vaccine, meaning the community is close to reaching herd immunity.
Last week, NSHC administered about 80 first doses, and an additional 100 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Tourists, too, are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Alaska.
Eligibility for the COVID vaccine expanded to include anyone over the age of 12 in the state, including visitors and tourists from the lower 48 and foreign countries, on June 1.
“We hope this helps vaccinate anyone in our state, including visitors, who choose to be immunized against COVID-19,” said Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum. “We’ve already received calls from tourists who want to be vaccinated here, and some who plan to stay three to four weeks to receive their second vaccine. This benefits visitors to our state as well as Alaskans and Alaska’s economy, too.”
NSHC, in partnership with the Nome Chamber of Commerce, plans to announce a drawing to encourage unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated. “Each week, the 16 and older population will be awarded two weekly prizes of $1,000 to one of the regional grocery stores,” said NSHC public relations manager Reba Lean during a weekly COVID-19 update conference call. “This $1,000 will apply to either Hanson’s, AC or Bonanza/Nome Outfitters.”
“If you’re in the 12 to 15 age range, it will be three weekly prizes awarded,” Lean continued. “$200 to one of those stores.”
The drawings will begin next week and run through July 30. At the end of the seven weeks, there will be several grand prizes, including $10,000 prizes from several businesses in Nome.
“Anyone who gets a shot June 1 or later is eligible,” Dr. Peterson said. Tourists, though, will not be eligible, even if they are vaccinated in the region.
Vaccines are available at several locations throughout Nome, including the NSHC pharmacy, the airport and the post office. Walk-ins are available at the pharmacy Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. Incoming passengers at the Nome Airport are able to receive Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines upon arrival. Pfizer and J&J vaccines are also available Monday through Friday from 12 to 3:30 p.m. at the Nome post office.
As of Tuesday, Alaska has had a total of 70,520 cases, 1,629 hospitalizations with 23 current hospitalizations including four patients currently being on ventilators and 369 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
In Nome, the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region, there have been 387 cases, six hospitalizations and no deaths.