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Two years after the region’s first COVID-19 case, local health officials look back at what has changed

Katie Basile
Dr. Ellen Hodges tests a Bethel resident at a COVID-19 testing event hosted by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, Alaska on November 7, 2020.

April 6 marked two years since the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) reported the first COVID-19 case in the Y-K Delta.

YKHC announced 69 new cases of COVID-19 from March 28 to April 3. That’s a 46% drop in cases from the week before, and a dramatic 92% drop from last month, when the Y-K Delta experienced the height of its omicron surge. COVID-19-related hospitalizations increased from the prior week, with two individuals hospitalized in Bethel, and two medevaced out of region. YKHC classifies the region as having a medium transmission risk.

According to the New York Times, the Y-K Delta has experienced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. Since April 6, 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was identified in-region, there have been more than 15,000 cases reported. According to YKHC, the population of people served in-region is about 29,000.

The virus has put extreme pressure on the region’s fragile health care system, with 150 hospitalizations in Bethel and 42 medevacs. Fifty Y-K Delta residents have died from COVID-19. The majority of those who have been hospitalized and have died were unvaccinated. YKHC continues to urge everyone to get vaccinated against the virus. Everyone age 50 and older and immunocompromised individuals are eligible for a second booster dose.

While mitigation efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are important, health officials remind the public to also take care of other aspects of their overall health. YKHC Public Health Director Brian Lefferts encouraged individuals to book other health screenings and doctor visits. "If you haven't seen a primary care provider, or dentist, or your optometrist in the last couple of years because of COVID, now's a great time to make an appointment," he said.

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced two cases in Aniak, six in Bethel, one in Chefornak, one in Eek, two in Emmonak, three in Hooper Bay, eight in Kipnuk, one in Kongiganak, two in Kotlik, two in Kwethluk, 10 in Kwigillingok, two in Lower Kalskag, four in Mountain Village, two in Tuluksak, 13 in Tuntutuliak and 10 in unnamed Y-K Delta villages.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim region is still reporting more cases than both the state and the nation. The region’s case rate is currently four-and-a-half times higher than the national case rate. Last week, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 1,381 new COVID-19 cases across Alaska. During that time, the Yukon-Kuskowkim Delta reported 5% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.

Per 100,000 people over seven days, 237.9 developed COVID-19 in-region. That’s compared to the national case rate of 52.9 cases per 100,000 people, and the state case rate of 188.8 cases per 100,000 people over the same period of time.

YKHC reports that 18,222 individuals, or 68% of the eligible population, are completely vaccinated against COVID-19. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reports that 64.4% of all eligible Alaskans have completed a vaccine series. Nationwide, 69.8% 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 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 907-543-6949.

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.