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Community spread causes Savoonga outbreak of over 100 COVID Cases

Roughly 15% of Savoonga’s population was considered active with COVID-19 by Nov. 9. Norton Sound Health Corporation announced 115 positive cases in the community of less than 800 people on Monday. The newest 55 cases are considered community spread according to NSHC.

The community is under lockdown and movements are limited, Delbert Pungowiyi, a tribal member of the Native Village of Savoonga, said.

“Eighty plus percent of our adults are fully vaccinated, and I think that is making a positive impact on the effects of COVID. So Savoonga has done a complete lockdown right now. We can venture out to the post office and check our boxes, a few people at a time that can go in there. Everyone has to wear their masks,” Pungowiyi explained.

The local store is only accepting orders via phone, according to Pungowiyi.

KNOM reported last week Nome’s City Manager Glenn Steckman said that Norton Sound Health Corporation, or NSHC, conducted significant testing for COVID-19 recently in Savoonga.

That could be a factor in why so many cases popped up so quickly. The outbreak of COVID-19 began with six cases in Savoonga on Oct. 26. Two weeks later, the local case count reached the highest on record for the community since the pandemic hit Western Alaska.

Pungowiyi worries about elders in the community.

“But I do believe they’ve been fully vaccinated. So far there have been no serious medevacs or hospitalizations that I have heard of,” Pungowiyi said.

Pungowiyi notes that Savoonga ran out of isolated quarantine locations for residents who test positive, as the community is experiencing a housing crisis. Many multi-generational families share a two bedroom home, fitting eight to ten people in a space meant for four. He suspected local leadership were going to issue an emergency declaration, but that has not happened.

Due to the massive spike in COVID-19 cases, the Bering Strait School District has issued “high risk” status for the Hogarth-Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial school in Savoonga. There are at least 20 positive cases among students, according to the district.

Supplies and aid are being sent to Savoonga from relatives and friendly donors across the state, including Yaari Walker, who is originally from St. Lawrence Island but lives in Anchorage now.

Image at top: The entrance lobby of the health clinic in Savoonga, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo from Sophia DeSalvo, KNOM 2021)

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