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NSHC Calls for Compassion for COVID Patients as Cluster of Cases Continues to Grow

An aerial view of a small, coastal, island village nestled on the side of a hill.
An aerial view of Diomede during the summer months, similar to one passengers might see while approaching the island community via helicopter, its main means of transportation to the mainland. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer Richard Brahm, public domain.

Two more cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Diomede. Those results came back to Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) on Thursday night along with another positive case in Nome. All three patients are now isolating.

The two Diomede patients are both close contacts and NSHC reports they are part of the recent cluster of cases that has broken out in the region. NSHC says the pair was already in quarantine while awaiting their test results.

The latest case in Nome was identified through the City of Nome’s travel and quarantine requirements. 

Diomede has some of the region’s strictest travel requirements including requiring all entering visitors to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, requiring mask-wearing in public, and installing hand-washing stations around town.

Despite the best of precautions, NSHC Spokesperson Reba Lean acknowledges that the virus was always going to get into the region and that the most important thing is to work together to keep it from spreading. 

“It’s a very sensitive thing to know that you unwittingly picked up this virus and may have spread it to others. You can’t go back in time. All we can do is keep staying safe, keeping our distance from other people, washing our hands a lot, and wearing masks in public… we just need to take those a little more seriously now that we know the risk of contracting it is higher.”  

There are many factors that make social distancing difficult in Western Alaska. Many people travel to Anchorage, a coronavirus hotspot, for medical treatment and then come home to quarantine in overcrowded or multi-generational homes. Some communities, including Diomede, don’t have running water. Families may also need to do subsistence activities that could increase their contact with others.

NSHC does have quarantine assistance available for those who need help. Lean says one way families can help each other stay healthy is through clear communication. 

“What we can do is limit our social circles and make sure that the members of our household are on the same page and that we are having contact with each other the members of our household and maybe just one or two other families or groups.”

One way that all Western Alaskans can help slow the spread of the pandemic, is to be compassionate with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. No one should be blamed for contracting an illness but Lean says patients are currently feeling stigma and shame.

“When people see that negativity they are less likely to get tested and cooperate with public health nursing when there’s an investigation going on.”

NSHC says testing and contact tracing led by the state are part of the region’s defense in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

Isolation is hard for COVID-19 patients and close-knit Western Alaska communities. Lean suggests helping to dull that isolation by pitching in to bring groceries and traditional remedies to patients in isolation or quarantine. 

Anyone struggling with feelings of isolation, fear, guilt, or uncertainty during this time can reach out to NSHC Behavioral Health Services at 443-3344 during business hours or 24/7 to the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-4357.

Image at Top: An aerial view of Diomede during the summer months. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer Richard Brahm, public domain.

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