Close Contact in Nome Tests Positive for COVID-19; Statewide ICU Beds Are Strained

Image of coronavirus particles

A confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nome was identified on Friday by the Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC). NSHC says it’s a close contact of another previously identified case but did not state that individual’s home community. Officials have confirmed there are 24 cases of COVID-19 active in the region. All of those are in Nome.

State public health nurses are investigating the origin through contact tracing, officials said. 

NSHC’s Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson reported 92 cases of COVID-19 in Nome are related to an outbreak in the community that began in mid-November. 68 of those cases are now considered recovered. Peterson said it is difficult to determine when the outbreak would be considered “over”. The outbreaks in Gambell and Stebbins were considered over two weeks after the last individual finished isolation.

“If we go two straight weeks without any active cases, ten days after the last case we would know that there’s likely not any active virus. But that’s not going to happen in Nome because we continue to have cases where people come in from Anchorage and bring the virus in.”

– Dr. Mark Peterson

While the numbers of new cases in the Nome census-area remained low over the weekend, statewide confirmed cases continue to surge; the state reported 1,679 new cases over the weekend.

As of Monday morning, NSHC is not reporting any COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Nome. But hub hospitals in Anchorage and other cities are experiencing a strain. The state COVID-19 dashboard shows 10 adult ICU beds available in Anchorage.

Peterson said Nome area residents that need to be transferred to Anchorage should not be turned away, provided they’re fit to travel. He said that the Norton Sound Regional Hospital is not on the state’s list of hospitals for critically ill patients. That means critically ill COVID-19 patients from other regions are not coming to Nome for treatment. But Peterson explained that the increasing demand for hospital beds in Anchorage does affect rural patients if they become too ill for treatment at the hospital in Nome. 

“Our tribal health organizations are still able to send patients– critically ill patients– out to Providence, Alaska Regional, Fairbanks, you know, other places, it’s just that you have to call around a little bit more, to find a bed available.”

According to Peterson, the Norton Sound Regional Hospital is equipped with 11 ventilators and the capacity to handle up to 35 patients.

NSHC is reminding all close contacts of anyone who tested positive with COVID-19 to quarantine for a full period of at least 10 days without testing. Close contacts may quarantine for seven days with a negative test on day seven and come out of quarantine on day eight. It is not possible to test out of quarantine early. These newest recommendations are from the CDC and are shorter than the previous standard 14- day quarantine.

Rapid testing is available by appointment at the NSHC Operations Building in Nome and in each regional clinic.

NSHC is not reporting the region’s active number of COVID-19 cases at this time. There have been 259 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Norton Sound region since the pandemic began in March.

Image at Top: Particles from the coronavirus. Photo in the public domain via Creative Commons.