The number of coronavirus cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is dropping, and the number of people receiving the vaccine is rising.
Dr. Ellen Hodges, Chief of Staff for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, says that cases in the region fell by 36% over the past two weeks. She attributed the decline to two main factors.
“Our bump or increase that we saw post-holiday get-togethers is getting over, so we’re going down,” Hodges said.
Meanwhile, the number of people getting vaccinated is going up. Over a quarter of the region’s total population has been vaccinated. In some villages, Hodges says, almost 80% of the eligible population has received a vaccine.
“It’s remarkable to me that we’ve been able to achieve that,” Hodges said.
The vaccine is available to everyone age 16 and older, but a lot of people in the region are under that age. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2019, over a third of the region’s population is below 16.
As of Feb. 7, 28.6% of the region’s population had received a vaccine. In Bethel, the percentage was higher at 36.7%. That’s over three times greater than the national rate at 9.5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the region, 7,470 people had received one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 7, and 4,020 people have received two doses. But we still have a long way to go to get to a safe place with this virus.
For about five months, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region has had the highest coronavirus case rate in the state, and one of the highest rates in the nation. Currently, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has 79 cases per 100,000 people; the city of Bethel has 56 cases per 100,000 people. A month ago, on Jan. 8, the COVID-19 case rate was higher at 81 cases per 100,000 people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and 305 cases per 100,000 people in the city of Bethel.
Health experts say that cases could continue falling as more people receive the vaccine, but warns that the vaccine does not guarantee protection. People who receive the vaccine still need to practice safety precautions like wearing masks and only gathering indoors with household members. Hodges says that some people who have been vaccinated in the region later tested positive for the coronavirus. The vaccine is 95% effective, meaning about 1 in 20 people will still get infected after vaccination, but their symptoms are much milder.
“Those people, generally speaking, have been very minimally or are asymptomatic, which is really good news because that’s one of the best things about the vaccine: it is very effective against severe disease,” Hodges said.
Hodges encourages everyone in the region to sign up with YKHC to be vaccinated using this link: https://tinyurl.com/y7reeyst.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the faster we can have a return to our normal life and get our kids back in school,” Hodges said. “And we can start doing the things that we want to do, like go to the gym and visit our loved ones.”
If you live in a village and are unable to complete the online vaccination request form, you can contact your local village clinic or tribal office for assistance. If you live in Bethel and need help, call the YKHC COVID-19 hotline at 907-543-6949. The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voicemails are returned within three business days.