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Health officials still encourage COVID-19 mitigation efforts amid new community risk guidelines

The Y-K Delta Regional Hospital is the only medical center in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Over the course of the pandemic, YKHC officials have reminded the community how fragile this makes the region's health care system.
Elyssa Loughlin
YKHC updated its transmission risk guidelines to take into account hospitalizations and hospital resources on March 11, 2022. As of March 24, there have been no new hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in three weeks.

From March 14 to March 20, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) announced 125 new cases of COVID-19. That's 100 fewer cases, or a 40% decrease, than the week before. But despite the dramatic drop in cases, the region’s community risk level has remained the same.

On March 11, YKHC updated its community guidance for COVID-19 mitigation based on the new guidelines released by the CDC. Both sets of guidelines compare the new number of COVID-19 cases per week to the number of new hospitalizations and the percent of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients over a seven-day period.

“We're still in the more than 50 cases in the previous seven days. That automatically puts us in the medium-risk level,” explained YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges. “There is no low risk level for if you have 50 or more cases in our region.”

Due to the new guidelines taking into account hospitalizations and healthcare resources, the region's medium transmission risk level cannot properly reflect the severity of an outbreak in each community. “Because of the way these new risks are calculated, we have to do risk for the whole region,” Hodges explained. “We can't break it down any smaller than that.” Anyone who is looking for information on individual community case rates should visit theYKHC COVID-19 Dashboard.

Local health officials continue to recommend masking in public areas and getting vaccinated as the main ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and YKHC Public Health Director Brian Lefferts said that YKHC is dedicated to keeping the public properly informed with the best information available. “This guidance may change, the situations around COVID are constantly changing and evolving, and we're just going to continue to try to stay on top of recommendations from CDC. So if there are changes, we'll be sure to let everyone know.”

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced eight cases in Akiachak, six in Alakanuk, one in Aniak, 11 in Bethel, two in Chevak, 13 in Crooked Creek, three in Eek, two in Grayling, three in Holy Cross, two in Hooper Bay, two in Kalskag, three in Kipnuk, 18 in Kwethluk, four in Mekoryuk, two in Mertarvik, 10 in Mountain Village, one in Napaskiak, nine in Newtok, two in Nunapitchuk, one in Quinhagak, two in St. Mary’s, one in Tuluksak, four in Tuntutuliak, and 12 in unnamed Y-K Delta villages.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta case rate remains significantly higher than both that of the state and the nation. Per 100,000 people over seven days, 431 developed COVID-19 in-region. That’s compared to the national case rate of 58.6 cases per 100,000 and the state case rate of 165.7 per 100,000 over the same period of time.

Last week, the state announced 1,212 new COVID-19 cases across Alaska. The Y-K Delta reported 10% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases during that time, although the region makes up less than 4% of Alaska’s total population.

YKHC reports that 18,084 individuals, or 67.4% of the eligible population, are completely vaccinated against COVID-19. This is a 0.6% increase in vaccinations since last week. DHSS reports that 64.2% of all eligible Alaskans have completed a vaccine series. Nationwide, 69.5% of the population that is five or older is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Local health officials continue to urge wearing masks and getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus to protect your health, and to prevent the healthcare 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) was the Wellness Programming Producer from 2020-2022.
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