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Regional cases spike as omicron is confirmed in the region

Katie Basile
Bethel Airport COVID-19 test site, October 29, 2020. Bethel, Alaska.

After two months of declining case rates, COVID-19 infections in the Y-K Delta are spiking. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation reported 270 new COVID-19 cases in the region over the past week, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9. YKHC also reported one in-region hospitalization during the same period of time.

This is a 76% increase in cases from the prior week. Last week, there were 65 new cases, no hospitalizations, and no deaths due to the virus. This week’s hospitalization is the first COVID-19-related hospitalization in three weeks. The steep increase in cases coincides with the confirmation of the omicron variant’s presence, and community spread in the region. Omicron is believed to have a higher infection rate than previous mutations of the virus.

Last week, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 7,780 new COVID-19 cases statewide. During that time, the Y-K Delta made up 3.5% of the state’s new cases.

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced four cases in Akiachak, five in Alakanuk, 26 in Aniak, 85 in Bethel, two non-residents who tested positive in Bethel, two in Chevak, six in Eek, 43 in Emmonak, 14 in Hooper Bay, one in Kalskag, one in Kasigluk, 22 in Kotlik, seven in Kwethluk, three in Lower Kalskag, two in Marshall, two in Mountain Village, four in Napakiak, three in Nunapitchuk, two in Pilot Station, four in Scammon Bay, 26 in St. Mary’s, three in Toksook Bay, one in Tuluksak, and three in Tununak.

How does the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta compare to state and national trends?

From Dec. 20 to Dec. 26, for the first time since early May, the Y-K Delta case rate was lower than the national case rate. Per 100,000 people over seven days, about 193.1 developed COVID-19 in-region, less than half of the national case rate of 462 cases per 100,000 over the same period of time. The following week, between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2, the state’s rate per 100,000 more than doubled to 506, while the regional rate rose to 224. Nationally, 924 people per 100,000 were infected with COVID-19.

For the second week in a row, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, newly announced cases in the region climbed, this week by 74%, to an average of 38.6 daily cases from 10 daily cases. Despite the steep increase, regional case rates remain slightly lower than both state and national rates, at 931, 1,128.4, and 1,422 per 100,000 respectively.

Holiday travel has been connected to the recent rise in infections. State epidemiologists confirmed the first omicron case in the Y-K Delta on Jan. 7. This confirmation came hours after a statement was released by YKHC that they suspected the omicron variant was spreading throughout the Y-K Delta. The positive COVID-19 test that was identified as the omicron variant came from the Bethel Census Area. While only one omicron case has been confirmed, contact tracing has connected out-of-region travel to areas where omicron has emerged as the dominant strain, suggesting that there are more cases of the new, more viral variant in the region.

Local health officials urge wearing masks and getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus to protect your health and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed by new cases.

Elyssa (she/her) is the Wellness Programming Producer and a second year Jesuit Volunteer/Americorps Member at KYUK. She loves dogs, listening to podcasts and playing ABBA to close out the Birthday Line.
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