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'Strong Likelihood' Of COVID-19 Community Spread In Bethel, Says YKHC

A COVID-19 testing sample at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
Katie Basile

Up until now, the local cases of COVID-19 have been linked by public health authorities to people who traveled into the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. That’s not true any more. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has evidence that “a strong likelihood” of sporadic community spread of COVID-19 is occurring in Bethel.

Community spread means that contact tracers cannot determine where a person contracted the virus. It means that anyone in the community might have the virus and be capable of passing it on. YKHC believes that community spread of COVID-19 might be occurring in Bethel after two cases emerged that have not yet been linked to travel. YKHC said that the investigations into the two cases are ongoing.

“The likelihood of sporadic community spread of COVID-19 is not unexpected given the recent spike in travel-related cases," YKHC wrote in a news release on Sept. 5. The health corporation has been warning the public for months that the pandemic and the public health risks it poses are not over.

The news comes after YKHC announced nine new cases of coronavirus in the region the day prior, on Sept. 4. One case lives in Bethel, one lives in a village, and the other seven live in a different village. YKHC is not releasing the names of the villages because of public health guidelines for protecting patient privacy. The spike in cases followed a streak of six days in which no new cases were announced.

YKHC has announced 93 coronavirus cases related to the region since the pandemic began. Twenty-four of those cases are currently active, according to the health corporation’s website.

Earlier this week, on Aug. 31, the Bethel City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance requiring all passengers arriving at the Bethel airport to either get tested for COVID-19, show proof of a negative test, or quarantine for 14 days. The same night, the city council passed another emergency ordinance requiring people to wear masks in public spaces.

YKHC urges everyone to remain vigilant and practice all known protective measures against COVID-19, including avoiding all non-essential travel, regularly washing hands, staying 6 feet away from non-household members, wearing a mask when in public, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

“Now, more than ever, it is essential the public practice protective measures,” YKHC wrote in a news release, warning of the possibility of community spread of COVID-19. “It takes a collective effort, as a community, to stop the transmission of this highly contagious virus."

YKHC also urges everyone traveling into the region to get tested for the virus, for free, at the Bethel, Aniak, and St. Mary’s airports. Free testing is also offered at the Bethel hospital parking lot every Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m. No appointment is needed. Testing by appointment continues at the Bethel drive-thru testing tent on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Call 907-543-6949 to set an appointment.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and diminished sense of taste or smell. YKHC asks that anyone experiencing these symptoms not go to a village clinic or the Bethel emergency room. Instead, they should call the village clinic or Bethel hospital at 907-543-6949 so that a health care provider can assist them.

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