The Bering Strait/Norton Sound region saw seven new cases of COVID-19 this past week, all of them Nome residents and most of them travel related. As of Tuesday, there were seven active cases in the region, all of them in Nome.
On Thursday, January 7, Norton Sound Health Corporation announced one new case, a Nome resident who had recently traveled into the region. On Saturday, they identified two more Nome resident cases, both travel related.
NSHC announced that two more Nome residents tested positive on Sunday, one travel related and one a close contact. Then on Monday they announced another two, again one travel related and one close contact.
On a regular conference call, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said that although regional case numbers have been relatively low over the last few weeks, the small spike over the last few days showed how quickly that can change.
 “In the region we were down to two active cases and then, boom, five more,” he said on Monday, before news of two additional cases came in shortly after. “It doesn’t take much to get to 50 cases, and then 100 cases. So, we really need to continue what we’re doing.”
He pointed out that most of the recent cases were caught through the testing of incoming travelers at the airport, and that the close contacts were largely contacts of recent travelers. The cases demonstrated how important airport testing and adherence to travel quarantines was to keep the virus out of the region, he said.
Meanwhile, COVID case numbers continue to break records elsewhere in the country, possibly driven by holiday travel and a new, more contagious variant of the virus.
According to Johns Hopkins University, last week marked a record number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, with 22,683 deaths recorded between January 3 and January 9.
In the region, NSHC has ramped up vaccination efforts with expanded eligibility in Nome and a new wave of vaccinations in regional villages. Information on who’s eligible when can be found on the NSHC website, or by calling village clinics.
Dr. Peterson warned that getting a vaccine wouldn’t let people forget about the pandemic. Full immunity doesn’t kick in until two weeks after the second dose, and most rules about mask wearing and social distancing still apply to vaccinated individuals while the virus remains widespread. It is yet unknown if vaccinated individuals who were exposed to the virus, can still spread it to others.
NSHC is dropping the travel quarantine recommendation for those who have been fully vaccinated, Dr. Peterson said, but Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman clarified that everyone traveling into Nome, including the vaccinated, still currently need to abide by the City of Nome’s testing and quarantine mandate.
“I know people are eager to get the vaccine and see the whole world change,” Peterson said. “But nothing changes right away. We need everybody to get vaccinated, that’s when real freedom comes.”
In Alaska, there had been a total of 48,797 cases as of Tuesday, with 70 people currently in the hospital and 223 deaths.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 295 total positive cases, five hospitalizations and no deaths.