COVID cases in region dropped to two
By Julia Lerner
Over the last week, Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified two new COVID-19 cases in Nome, bringing the total number of active cases in the region to two.
On Sunday, July 11, one individual tested positive for COVID-19 in a travel-related case. A close contact of the July 11 case tested positive for a community-spread case of coronavirus on Monday, July 12. Both individuals are isolating and other close contacts have been notified.
“We now have two active cases in the region,” NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson explained during the weekly COVID-19 conference call. “That’s across our entire 10,000-person region. That’s got to be the lowest number of active cases we’ve seen in months.”
Despite the low active case count, local residents should continue to exercise caution as COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant, spread across the United States. The Delta variant currently represents around half of all new COVID-19 cases in the country, but could represent almost 100 percent of cases in just a few weeks. The variant is particularly dangerous for unvaccinated individuals and can spread rapidly in pockets of unvaccinated people.
“In our region, there have been no cases of the Delta variant to our knowledge,” DR. Peterson said. “We know that the Delta variant is going to get here. We know that if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re protected. People should not be scared of the Delta variant, unless they’re not vaccinated. If they’re not, they should be scared. The Delta variant will find them if they’re unvaccinated.”
All three vaccines currently on the market protect against the original strain of COVID-19, as well as the variants.
On Saturday, July 10, Nome reached an important milestone by fully inoculating more than 70 percent of the population. Dr. Peterson stressed the importance of hitting 70 percent for months as the community raced to reach herd immunity. Currently, 72 percent of the entire Nome population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 70 percent are fully vaccinated.
Several regional villages, including White Mountain, Wales, Gambell, Unalakleet and Savoonga are approaching the 70 percent inoculation rate as well.
“Our region is pretty well protected but we need to continue” with vaccinations, Peterson said. He encouraged villages with lower numbers to organize their own vaccination events, like Savoonga did last week.
“The Native village of Savoonga really stepped up,” said one Savoonga caller during the weekly COVID-19 conference call. During the village’s vaccination event, NSHC administered vaccines to more than 4 percent of the entire community.
“It was a terrific effort,” Dr. Peterson said.
Across the region, NSHC administered 64 first doses of vaccine last week. Regionwide, 64 percent of the entire population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 61 percent are fully vaccinated.
“In the end, every community will get to herd immunity,” Dr. Peterson said. “They’ll either get it safely through vaccination, or they’ll get it through a combination of vaccination and infection. We’d rather it be all vaccination, if possible.”
Vaccines are still available in Nome at the airport, the post office and at the NSHC pharmacy.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new warning for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, a one-shot vaccine that was authorized for use in late February of this year. The vaccine, which was put on hold for several weeks related to blood clot concerns, has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an incredibly rare but serious side effect where the immune system attacks the nerves.
“It’s still an effective vaccine, but not as many people in our region are getting it because people are now leaning towards the Pfizer and Moderna, just because the Pfizer can be used in the younger age groups,” Peterson explained. Guillain-Barré is a side effect in “a tiny, tiny fraction of the number of vaccines given. We’ve not seen it from the Johnson and Johnson this year, and it would be rare for us to see it because the number [of Guillain-Barré cases] is so small.”
Alaska continues to do well with COVID-19 diagnoses, Dr. Peterson said. Across the state, there have been a total of 71,905 COVID-19 cases, 1,741 hospitalizations – including 44 current ones — and 381 deaths.
In Nome, Norton Sound, and the Bering Strait region, there have been a total of 426 COVID-19 cases, 8 hospitalizations, and no deaths.