The Norton Sound Health Corporation reports that it has 11 ventilators to service the region and all of those are located in Nome. Ventilators can be used to support the breathing process when extreme cases of COVID-19 cause a patient’s lungs to fail.
NSHC is reporting that all Bering Strait communities have some COVID-19 testing kits, although, in order to get test results the tests would have to be processed by a state lab in Anchorage or Fairbanks. In less urgent cases, tests could be sent to a private lab in the Lower 48.
Dr. Mark Peterson, the Medical Director for NSHC explains that if and when a case of COVID-19 appears in a village within the Bering Strait Region, the plan is preferably to have that patient stay in place at home. They would be in isolation along with the people that live with them.
“Because then there’s less risk to spread that virus. If you fly somebody into Nome, then everybody that they’ve come into contact with is a potential new infection.”– Dr. Mark Peterson
Should the need arise for a hypothetical patient, Peterson says all village clinics have oxygen available for those who may need extra oxygen but not the support of a ventilator. If a patient from one of the regional communities is in the 20% of COVID-19 patients that require hospitalization, then they will be medevac’d to Nome or Anchorage.
As of Wednesday, NSHC says they have tested 17 people for COVID-19 but which communities those patients are from is unknown. Fourteen of those tests are negative and three are still pending results.
Image at top: An aerial view of Scammon Bay, Alaska in November 2011. Photo from US Coast Guard, via public domain.