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New Coronavirus Not in Nome or State Of Alaska, Officials Taking Precautions Regardless

The Nome hospital at dusk, viewed from the front, with light streaming through its windows.

Despite the growing number of those infected with novel coronavirus, which started with an outbreak in Wuhan China, Alaska’s Section of Epidemiology has not confirmed any cases in the state including Western Alaska. Locally in Nome, health officials say they are taking precautions related to strains of the coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses.

According to reports from Alaska Public Media, the State of Alaska has confirmed there are not even suspected cases of novel coronavirus thus far. So, when Tom Vaden, a lieutenant with the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department, received a call saying that a potential case of coronavirus was in Nome, he was skeptical.

“They had stated that one of the teachers at school had called in sick with the coronavirus, which was like… that raised some questions. So, I called the hospital (Norton Sound Regional Hospital) Emergency Department and asked them if they could TEST for the coronavirus, and they said yes.”

What Vaden is referring to is a different strain of the coronavirus. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is a whole family of coronaviruses, which are related to mild illnesses like the common cold, or more serious ones like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). These viruses have been around for years.

The latest coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China two months ago, is aptly named novel or new coronavirus. As the CDC, and Vaden have said, little is known about this latest outbreak of coronavirus.

“And they’re monitoring that because it seems to have similar characteristics as SARS and MERS, but they really don’t know enough about it (new coronavirus) yet to really see how it’s affecting individuals. So that’s why everybody is keeping a really close eye on what’s going on with this (new coronavirus).”

Again, health officials know that so far, no cases of new coronavirus have been reported in Alaska. Reba Lean, the spokesperson for Norton Sound Health Corporation, says even if the coronavirus was in Nome, they cannot confirm any local patient cases or even the number of cases at NSHC.

However, NSHC staff have been instructed to ask certain patients who are showing respiratory symptoms if they have traveled to Wuhan, China in the last 14 days or had close contact with a person who may be under investigation for having the new coronavirus.

Vaden says the Nome Emergency Medical Services team will be prepared as well, if needed.

“There’s more people sick in the Norton Sound region with Tuberculous than anywhere near something like the novel coronavirus. With the ambulance department (NVAD) and Nome Emergency Services, we will take proper precautions. If someone’s got a respiratory illness, they will wear a mask, we will wear masks, and we will report to the hospital.”

Symptoms of the new coronavirus include sore throat, fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, just like most respiratory illnesses. To prevent the spread of these viruses remember to wash your hands thoroughly, cover your cough or sneeze, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Image at top: Nome’s Norton Sound Regional Hospital. Photo from Laura Kraegel, KNOM file.