City manager reflects on lessons learned from COVID-19
By Peter Loewi
Over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration released briefing documents saying that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines safely produced immune responses in children under the age of five. The FDA will meet this week to authorize the shots, a key step to protecting the last unvaccinated population. Children appear to have been spared most of severity of earlier variants, although Omicron’s ability to target the upper respiratory system did cause a rise in severe cases of croup, a potentially dangerous constriction of the airway. The FDA will also meet later this month to discuss boosters for the fall and other variants the future might bring.
Even with BA.4 and BA.5 keeping daily case numbers at around 100,000 across the country – every infection another opportunity to cause another mutation – much of the nation is winding down their emergency postures, but that doesn’t mean the care is going away. Norton Sound Health Corporation continues to provide and recommend vaccination and boosters, and Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman said that the City will continue to make masks and tests available.
Now more than two years since the pandemic was declared, and three months since dissolving the Emergency Operations Center, Steckman reflected on the ordeal and talked about lessons learned. “Long and stressful,” were the first words out of his mouth. This response is understandable as it is the city manager’s job to make sure the City functions well and to protect residents.
“There has been no coursework that ever prepares anybody for a pandemic,” Steckman said.
In the beginning, people were terrified, he said. During one early townhall meeting on the pandemic, a huge crowd packed into Nome’s Council Chambers, making it standing room only as people grappled with the appropriate response to a new virus. It didn’t help that Steckman was relatively new on the job — he started in the fall of 2019— and despite all of the supply chain issues, there wasn’t a shortage of negative comments towards him, he said. Some people, when the severity of the pandemic began to show, would later apologize.
“One of the sad parts of this is that it created a serious divide in our country, and there was a deep divide within this community. I think you may see that in the next pandemic that will hit. There’s been sown so many seeds of distrust, towards science, towards government. It’s very difficult,” Steckman said.
Nome was a leader in the beginning in locking down and working with public health and neighboring communities, but ultimately, he said, many decisions were imposed by the state and federal government. However, the blame regularly fell on him. “I wish I’d had more time or ability to meet with people to explain why,” he said. Like many in the country, he had trouble dealing with misinformed citizens.
Asked about lessons learned, he said “You have to be able to adjust very quickly to the changes. There will be a lesson learned, in how to do things quicker.” Another lesson was on points of distribution. “That didn’t really work for this, so that is going to be rethought from an emergency planning standpoint,” he said.
The pandemic also exposed how unprepared the City was on work from home availability, with an estimated 95 percent of the staff still working in the office, though distanced. The Nome Recreation Center, the designated emergency shelter, needed improvements to fulfill that role, and now there is federal money available to address many of those issues.
“I’m always proud of the staff,” he said. “Proud of those at the airport testing in 20, 30 degrees below zero. City staff was the first group that met you at the airport. I’m proud of the people who kept the city safe.”
The week in numbers
On Tuesday, June 7, Norton Sound Health Corporation identified one new case in Nome and one new case in Golovin. This made for seven active cases in the region: four in Nome, two in Shishmaref and one in Golovin.
On Wednesday, June 8, NSHC identified three new cases. Two of the cases were in Nome, and one was in Diomede. This brought active cases in the region to nine, with six in Nome, and one in each of Shishmaref, Golovin, and Diomede.
No new cases were reported on Thursday, June 9.
Over the weekend from Friday, June 10 to Sunday, June 12, eight new cases were identified. Seven cases in Nome and one more in Diomede. Active cases in the region rose to 10, with nine in Nome and one in Diomede.
On Monday, June 13, NSHC identified four new cases in the region: three in Nome and one in Unalakleet.
There are 13 active cases in the region: 11 in Nome, one in Diomede and one in Unalakleet.
The USA has had 85,685,139 officially reported cases of COVID-19 and 1,011,641 associated deaths.
The state of Alaska has had 255,425 officially reported cases of COVID-19, 3,767 hospitalizations and 1,252 deaths. There a currently 45 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, a slight decrease from the last several weeks.
Nome, the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region has had at least 6,037 cases, 44 hospitalizations, and six deaths.