COVID cases increase to 72 in the region
By Julia Lerner
The state of Alaska sees record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases every day, and the Nome, Norton Sound and Bering Strait region is not immune against the trend.
Cases continue to rise in Nome, as well as several nearby villages, as the City debates a return to more drastic COVID-19 prevention measures.
“We may require masks to be worn in all public indoor spaces,” said Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman during the weekly COVID-19 conference call hosted by the Norton Sound Health Corporation. “We don’t know but things are coming.”
In the last week, NSHC has identified more than 70 new cases in the region, including 19 Tuesday, eight Wednesday, 18 Thursday, 26 over the weekend, and six on Monday, bringing the total number of active cases in the region to 72.
Of the 19 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 between Monday, September 20 and Tuesday, September 21, nine were in Koyuk, six were in Shaktoolik and four were in Nome.
On Wednesday, September 22, NSHC identified seven cases in Koyuk and one in Shaktoolik.
Eighteen people tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, September 23. Eleven of the individuals are Koyuk residents, three are from Nome, three are from St. Michael and one is from Shaktoolik.
Between Friday and Sunday, NSHC identified 26 new COVID-19 cases, a majority of which were discovered in Nome. Over the weekend, 15 individuals in Nome tested positive, while seven of the new cases are in Koyuk, three are in Shaktoolik, and one case is in Unalakleet.
NSHC identified six cases on Monday, three of which are in Nome, two are in Brevig Mission, and one is in Koyuk.
Of the 72 active cases in the region, 31 are in Koyuk, 24 are in Nome, 11 are in Shaktoolik, three are in St. Michael, two are in Brevig Mission and one is in Unalakleet.
The 72 active cases represent a significant jump in diagnoses. Cases rose almost 300 percent between this week and last, when NSHC reported only 26 active cases in the region.
“There’s lots of COVID all over the country and lots of COVID all over Alaska,” explained NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson. “Cases are still spiking up each day. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday [each saw] over 1,000 cases in the state of Alaska, and lots of deaths as well.”
Several hospitals in the state, including the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, are continuing to ration care, and Governor Mike Dunleavy has activated “crisis standards of care” in state hospitals while bringing in hundreds of contracted health care workers from out of state.
The plan, announced by the state of Alaska and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday, September 22, intends to bring in 300 registered nurses and 100 nursing assistants to support overworked and understaffed hospitals and health care facilities across the state.
“Today’s developments are a step toward bringing critically-needed relief to an overburdened healthcare system,” said Bethel House Representative Tiffany Zulkosky. “Alaska continues to need community and state leadership that will implement scientifically sound prevention measures, which are crucial to slowing the exponential spread of COVID-19 and flattening the disease burden crushing our hospitals.”
Rural hospitals, like the Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome, often send emergency and COVID patients out of region for care, and with only 22 ICU beds left in the entire state, there’s very few places still able to serve rural Alaskans.
“If the new FEMA-funded contract results in rapid recruitment of the hundreds of healthcare professionals Alaska needs, it will be an incredibly important advancement in fighting the surge,” according to Anchorage House Representative Liz Snyder. “As we wait for outside help to arrive, we must help ourselves here at home through prevention – vaccination, masking and limiting gathering sizes.”
COVID-19 vaccinations are available through NSHC to anyone over the age of 12 in the region, and Peterson hopes childhood vaccines will be made available in the coming weeks. “We’ve not heard yet about vaccines for ages 5-11 or when that’s going to be approved, though we know that should happen before the end of the year,” he said. “We just don’t know if it’ll be October, November, December, so we’re waiting on that.”
NSHC made booster vaccines, or a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, available to anyone more than six months out from their second dose, in early September. Since then, the hospital has administered more than 1,000 booster doses.
“People that are motivated to get the vaccine are getting it, and they’re getting the boosters, too,” Peterson said. “I’ll just say it again: If you’re not vaccinated, you will get the Delta variant. Hopefully you don’t die from COVID, but that is a possibility.”
As cases rise across the state, health care officials and politicians are encouraging Alaskans to get vaccinated and to continue taking preventative measures, including masking and hand washing.
Across Alaska, there have been 112,391 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, including 4,025 reported over the last weekend. In the state, there have been 2,468 hospitalizations, including 209 currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 33 patients on ventilators. Across the state, only 22 ICU beds remain available. In Alaska, 563 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, 2020.
In Nome, Norton Sound and the Bering Strait region, there have been 1,000 cases of COVID, including 77 in the last week, and 12 total hospitalizations. There have been zero COVID-19 related deaths in the region since the pandemic began.