By Julia Lerner
Norton Sound Health Corporation has identified four new COVID-19 cases in the region in the last seven days, bringing the total number of active cases across Bering’s six channels: two in Nome, and four in Koyuk
Four people in Koyuk tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, June 22nd. All four were in close contact with each other, and the cases are considered widespread in the community. Other close contacts have been advised, and people are isolated.
“Due to potential community exposure, NSHC will recommend a hunker-down period in the community of Koyuk,” according to an NSHC press release Tuesday. “Encourage outdoor, socially distant activities, but non-vaccinated community members should avoid socializing with the homeless and limiting public outings. The Ruth Qumiiggan Henry Memorial Clinic in Koyuk will open for testing, vaccination, and emergencies only Wednesday -Friday, June 23-25, People with symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, body aches, or diarrhea should call the clinic at (907) 963-3311 for testing We encourage people who are not vaccinated to get tested this week and get vaccinated as soon as possible. “
The vaccination status
Last week, NSHC administered about 40 new vaccinations, according to NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson. “That’s a little low for us,” he said. “[It’s] about half a percent of the region. “
Peterson stressed the importance of vaccination and said all three authorized vaccines are highly effective against the original COVID-19 strain, as well as variants present in Alaska. Variants remain a concern, though, especially when the region approaches colder, weather falls. Peterson explains: “It’s the moment when people will gather indoors.” “We really want everyone to be vaccinated” before then, as COVID-19 is more easily spread in enclosed spaces, putting vaccinated populations at greater risk.
So far, seven cases of the P.1 variant and one case of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in Norton Sound. Variant B.1.1.7, first discovered in the United Kingdom, was widespread in Alaska and appeared in Nome in May.
In Nome, 62 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated, Dr. Peterson said. In order to reach herd immunity, more than 70 percent of the total population will need to be vaccinated.
Dr. Peterson hopes the Nome Chamber of Commerce will encourage more people to get the vaccine. The Raf, open to anyone over the age of 12 who have been vaccinated in the region, has weekly awards available, as well as several major awards to be given in August.
Last week, Nome residents Shasta Henry and Tia Katcheak won the $ 1,000 prize. Ernest Henry of Brevig Mission, Shane Yavaksek-Akeya of Savoonga and Levi Moses of Golovin won the $ 200 prize.
During the weekly COVID-19 conference call, many village leaders expressed the need for more vaccine education in their communities, citing concerns and misinformation. Community members discussed the provision of educational information during church, through newsletters, and additional encouragement.
“We’ll keep the awards coming and we’ll keep the information flowing,” Dr. Peterson said.
Vaccines are now available for anyone ages 12 and up to several locations around Nome, including the NSHC pharmacy, the airport, and the post office.
Peterson also expressed support for businesses requesting COVID-19 vaccines for employees. “Organizations are going to mandate the vaccine, which is going to help as well,” he said. “If more corporations ask for it, I think that might be helpful. I’m certainly very supportive, and Norton Sound is very supportive of any business, any agency or corporation that wants to ask for it for the safety of their staff. “
Last week, several people protested against the NSHC vaccine warrant at Nome hospital.
“This is not about the COVID vaccine, but about the freedom to choose which medical procedures can be forced on you without losing [sic] your job, ”reads a leaflet that has been distributed on social media.“ This is an issue of freedom for everyone. Today, loyal employees were sent home from their jobs at NSHC due to their decision not to be vaccinated. Support individual freedoms. Empathy for job loss. Demonstrate to NSHC that we see the actions and harm it has caused on our region. ”
During the weekly COVID-19 conference, Dr. Peterson explained that 100 percent of active hospital staff are currently vaccinated, even though several non-vaccinated staff have been put on administrative leave.
“A very limited number of people … are still struggling with the decision [to get the COVID-19 vaccine], ”Peterson explains.“ They have some administrative time. They don’t stop at work — no one has stopped at work for lack of a shot. They are given about a month of administrative time not to work where they can make a decision on whether they want the vaccine or not. There were no layoffs of anyone. “
Recently, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit against the Houston Methodist Hospital over mandatory vaccinations for employees, clearing the way for hospitals and other organizations to require them.
“As a health care organization, it’s just so important that health organizations lead the way,” Dr. Peterson said.
As of Tuesday, Alaska had a total of 70,963 cases and 93 new cases reported, 1,652 hospitalizations and ten current hospital admissions and 373 deaths since the pandemic began last year. Statewide alert levels are downgraded to low, but the YK Delta region still sees a high alert level.
In Nome, Bering canal and Norton Sound region, there were 386 cases, 8 hospitalizations and no deaths.