On June 25, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced that there is a strong likelihood that there is “community spread” of COVID-19 in the village of Napaskiak. This is after a second individual that was in the village tested positive for coronavirus.
On June 15, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced that a Napaskiak resident had tested positive for coronavirus. At that time Napaskiak went into lockdown, shutting down all inter-village travel, except for essential needs. A team from YKHC traveled to the nearby village to conduct widespread testing. Napaskiak Tribal Administrator Sharon Williams says that round of testing identified an additional case.
“From the tests on June 16, someone was positive,” Williams said.
YKHC said that the most recent case is a Bethel resident who was in Napaskiak. Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that the individual had not traveled outside of the region recently, nor were they a close contact of the first Napaskiak resident who tested positive, which is why Hodges says that there is likely community spread.
“For community spread, what we mean is we're not sure how or when they became infected,” Hodges said.
Asked whether the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has hit a new level of severity in the COVID-19 pandemic, Hodges said that it has always been serious.
“This disease is unpredictable,” Hodges said. “There are people who are healthy, who have no chronic medical conditions, who become severely ill and die. And there are, of course, our elderly who are quite vulnerable, who can become severely ill and die. And so I think it's incumbent upon all of us as a community to contribute to the control of this outbreak.”
Napaskiak officials are mandating face masks in public places. Williams says that the bingo hall and the church are closed. She says that non-residents are asked to stay away from the village, and residents are asked to stay in their home except for essential needs like food and gas. Williams says that fishing is another essential need.
“All subsistence activities are allowed,” Williams said.
Hodges says that fishing, since it is outdoors, should be okay, even while Napaskiak is mostly sheltering in place.
“As long as people can maintain social distance from people not in their household, wear masks if they have to interact with other people,” Hodges said.
The village will also allow an exception to its lockdown when non-residents head to Napasiak for the burial of Jerry Evan, an Alaska State Trooper who died on June 20. The service will be outdoors with close friends and family members, and everyone will be encouraged to wear a mask.
YKHC is sending a medical provider to Napaskiak on June 26 to conduct additional testing until July 1. Williams says that she hopes that 100% of the village gets tested this time.
Hodges says that with the number of coronavirus cases growing in the region, people in every village and community should continue to wear masks, wash their hands often, and maintain a small social circle.
“If you can't name the number of people that you've been with in the past 14 days, then you're around too many people,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that the actions of one person cannot control this virus, but the entire Y-K Delta community should work together to try to prevent a larger outbreak.
Symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and a diminished sense of taste or smell. Anyone who has these symptoms is asked to not go see a medical provider, but instead to call their village clinic or the Bethel hospital at 907-543-6949.