The Liitfik Wellness and Treatment Center will eventually live in a new, two-story building across the street from the Norton Sound Regional Hospital (pictured), according to NSHC President Angie Gorn. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

The Norton Sound region’s COVID-19 spike continues. On Nov. 18, Norton Sound Health Corporation identified six new COVID-19 cases in the Norton Sound Region. Four are in Nome, one is in Shishmaref, and one is in Unalakleet. Unalakleet and Shishmaref’s cases both are due to close contacts. Two cases in Nome are also from close contacts while the other two are from community spread.

Earlier that week, NSHC identified 23 new cases in Nome, five in Shishmaref, two in Savoonga, and one in Brevig Mission. The Brevig Mission and Shishmaref cases resulted from close contacts, while the Savoonga cases were community spread. In Nome, 17 cases are due to close contact and six are community spread. NSHC has already notified all positive patients identified throughout the week. All are now in isolation. 

Due to the spike, the city of Nome has extended its Mask Mandate to end on Dec. 8. According to this Emergency order, issued by City of Nome Manager Glenn Steckman, face masks are required in all indoor public spaces and taxicabs. In addition, the City of Nome recommends that any visitors to Nome get tested for COVID-19.

The size of Nome has much to do with the city’s high case count, NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson said. Even though approximately 77% of Nome is vaccinated, according to Peterson, Nome’s comparatively large population means that just under 900 people remain unvaccinated in the city.

“Despite a good vaccination rate it’s not 100%. It’s 77% or around 77%. So that leaves a lot of people unvaccinated unfortunately,” Peterson said.

The newly launched efforts to get children ages five through 11 vaccinated should help increase Nome’s vaccination rates by about six to eight percent, Peterson said. Getting children vaccinated is an important element of lowering Nome’s case count, Peterson said.

“Letting people know the importance of the vaccinations for the five to 11 year olds. There’s some vaccination fatigue out there. People are tired of hearing about COVID. But getting vaccinated is the way for us to get over this pandemic and climb out of it. If we were at 100% vaccination rate or 90% vaccination rate, our case numbers would be significantly lowered,” Peterson said.

Even when children do not develop serious symptoms, they can pass it on to individuals at greater risk, Peterson said.

As of Nov. 18, there are 164 active cases in the Norton Sound Region. Of these, 107 are in Nome. 29 are in Savoonga, ten are in Shishmaref, seven are in Unalakleet, six are in Brevig Mission, four are in Gambell and one is in Wales.

Norton Sound Hospital in Nome. Photo courtesy of Laura Kraegel, KNOM.