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As COVID-19 infections reach all-time highs, YKHC wants you to continue to practice mitigation

Lex Treinen
Alaska Public Media
A COVID-19 testing site run by Capstone in Anchorage, Alaska on Jan. 7, 2021.

Think back to the end of 2020: the region was experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak yet, with new cases reaching over 552 per week. The next year, during the delta variant wave in the fall of 2021, case rates topped 300 per week. Now, during this omicron surge, cases have hit an all-time high in the region with 688 cases reported from Jan. 10 to Jan. 16. The actual number of cases may be higher, since these numbers don’t include at-home test results. During this one week period, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) also reported four new hospitalizations in-region, and one medevac due to the virus.

From Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, infections rose by 61% and the Y-K Delta is again outpacing state and national infection rates. With COVID-19 all around, you may be wondering if you’ve been infected.

"The best way to know if you have COVID, and can protect other people, is to get tested. And I like to say there's never a bad time to test," YKHC Director of Public Health Brian Lefferts said on Jan. 19.

Testing is available for free through YKHC in Bethel and through village clinics. Lefferts said that if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as a sore throat, runny nose, or fever, that you should test as soon as possible. He also said that you should get tested if you’ve competed in sports or traveled. "We especially want kids, if they are traveling for sports, to be vaccinated and to make sure that they're able to wear masks when they travel."

YKHC’s guidelines on when to test have slightly changed. The key number to remember is five. "In addition to testing five days after your first exposure, we want you to test about every five days after that," said Lefferts.

If you’re living with someone who cannot isolate from the rest of the household, you should test every five days after the onset of their symptoms until that person is no longer symptomatic.

"The last day they were infectious is the last day you were exposed. So you want to test five more days after that too," explained Lefferts. "So just remember: five. Test anytime you’re symptomatic, or every five days [after exposure]."

Guidelines are different for people who’ve had COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Because the virus can remain present for up to three months after infection, anyone who has had COVID-19 within this period may receive a false positive test.

The best ways to prevent spreading COVID-19 are the same as they have been for two years, according to Lefferts: "testing, quarantine, isolation, wearing a mask, and for right now, tightening those social circles and physically distancing." And, of course, getting vaccinated and boosted.

From Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 14,598 new COVID-19 cases statewide. During that time, the Y-K Delta made up 4.6% of the state’s new cases.

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced 22 cases in Akiachak, five in Akiak, 15 in Alakanuk, 51 in Aniak, six in Anvik, two in Atmautluak, 184 in Bethel, 11 in Chefornak, 11 in Chevak, six in Eek, 29 in Hooper Bay, nine in Kalskag, six in Kasigluk, seven in Kipnuk, five in Kotlik, four in Kwethluk, 13 in Kwigillingok, nine in Lower Kalskag, four in Marshall, two in Mekoryuk, 10 in Mountain Village, one in Napakiak, three in Napaskiak, six in Newtok, three in Nunapitchuk, two in Pilot Station, 105 in Scammon Bay, 30 in St. Mary’s, 20 in Toksook Bay, one in Tuluksak, six in Tuntutuliak, 41 in Tununak, and eight in unnamed Y-K Delta Villages.

The Y-K Delta case rate is higher than both that of the state and the nation again. Per 100,000 people over seven days, about 2,372.4 developed COVID-19 in-region. That’s more than twice as many as the national case rate of 1,626 cases per 100,000 over the same period of time. Alaska is reporting slightly fewer cases per 100,000 at 2,154.7.

YKHC reports that 65.1% of the eligible population is completely vaccinated against COVID-19. This is 4% higher than the state population, as DHSS reports that 61.1% of all eligible Alaskans have completed a vaccine series. Nationwide, 67% of the population that is five or older is fully vaccinated.

Local health officials continue to 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. Anyone with questions about the virus is encouraged to visit the YKHC COVID-19 Dashboard or call the COVID-19 hotline at 543-6949.

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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