By Peter Loewi
COVID-19 cases in the region continue to decline slowly, reaching the lowest they’ve been this year, but case rates are still among the highest in the country.
There are currently 14 active cases in the region: nine in Shishmaref, four in Nome and one in Elim.
Nationwide, COVID cases have risen over 50 percent in the last two weeks, driven by a highly infectious Omicron subvariant in the Northeastern continental US.
Norton Sound Health Corporation continues to test between 50 and 100 people per day, NSHC Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said, including the at-home tests which they hand out.
On Monday, April 26, for example, 92 tests were done in the region, and 5.4 percent were positive. Peterson said he is confident they have an accurate number of positives because many people need a letter for work or school to be excused due to an infection. However, there isn’t a good way to figure out the exact number of positive cases, because people can also get home tests from the City of Nome, or bring them back from pharmacies in Anchorage.
“It’s probably almost always been true that reported case counts substantially underestimate the number of infections,” said Dr. Eric Mooring, from the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services’ Section of Epidemiology. “The rise of over-the-counter testing is an additional factor that affects detection and reporting. Reported cases continue to be a useful tool for understanding the trajectory of COVID-19 and for identifying communities that are having large outbreaks. But measuring the absolute intensity of transmission is difficult, especially in real-time.”
Following last week’s decision by a federal judge in Florida saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC for short, didn’t have the authority to issue a mask requirement on public transportation, the U.S. Department of Justice as formally appealed. The CDC issued a statement on April 20 saying: “It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.” Speaking to CBS News, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “The CDC has the capability, through a large number of trained epidemiologists, scientists, to be able to make projections and make recommendations. Far more than a judge with no experience in public health.”
The judge’s decision is worrisome to immune-compromised people. A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 56 percent of Americans still support a mask mandate for people traveling in airplanes, trains and public transportation. Only 24 percent were opposed to such a mandate.
Joshua Santarpia, a microbiologist studying aerosol transmission of disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center told National Public Radio that “this was a legal decision – not a scientific decision. People should not take this as a sign that something has magically changed overnight.”
The CDC encourages everyone to wear a mask in public transportation. Dr. Fauci said that should he fly, he would wear an N-95, a decision many other public health officials agree with.
NSHC’s Dr. Peterson, in an email the Nugget, recommended that “people should continue to mask if they are at higher risk for progression to more severe COVID illness. This would include those 65 and up and anyone at any age with risk factors for severe illness from COVID. Also- anyone with symptoms of COVID should be testing, masking and avoiding travel and exposure to others until they are fully recovered.”
An NPR article recently described some of the risks that travelers face in various modes of transportation: airplanes pose a lower risk to large outbreaks than airports, because of proper ventilation systems, but only when moving. Similarly, opening windows in buses and cabs reduces the risk of transmission.
A well-fitting respirator such as an N95, KN95, or KF94 can decrease individual risk. Vaccinating and boosting is also an important part of reducing individual risk.
“When you have a common enemy in the virus, you’ve got to all pull together, fight that common enemy. And the degree of profound divisiveness in the country has really hindered that,” Fauci said.
The week in numbers
On Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20, NSHC identified 19 new COVID-19 cases in the region. There were 10 in Shishmaref, six in White Mountain, two in Nome and one in St. Michael.
At that time, there were 30 active cases in the region: 13 in White Mountain, 11 in Shishmaref, five in Nome, and one in Wales.
Over the weekend from Friday, April 22 to Sunday, April 24, NSHC identified five new COVID-19 cases in the region. There were three in Shishmaref and two in Nome.
This brought active cases in the region down to 13: six in Nome, six in Shishmaref and one in Elim.
On Monday, April 25, NSHC identified 5 new COVID-19 cases in the region. Four were in Shishmaref and one was in Nome.
The United States has had 81,043,315 officially reported cases of COVID-19 and 991,609 COVID-19 associated deaths.
Alaska has seen at least: 243,466 cases, 3,752 hospitalizations and 1,215 deaths. There are currently 20 people hospitalized due to COVID-19.
The Nome, Norton Sound and Bering Strait region has seen at least 5,958 cases, 44 hospitalizations and six deaths.