The first person in Bethel died of COVID-19 this weekend. Dr. Ellen Hodges, Chief of Staff with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, says that the case was travel related, and there’s no indication that anyone else in the region was infected.
“Our contact tracing indicates that risk to the community was very low,” Hodges said.
The keys to keeping Bethel and the surrounding villages safe include testing. With the growing number of cases in Anchorage, there is a statewide shortage of testing reagents, which has caused things to back up at the state lab. Results that used to take five days are now taking 10 days. Hodges says that the moment YKHC gets a positive result, they are on the phone to contact people.
“No matter what time, day or night, we get the call. Even if we get the call in the middle of the night, I start making calls to try to track that person down. We feel that it’s that important that person be informed about their results right away,” Hodges said.
YKHC will call everyone they test for the virus with their test results. People who test positive may hear their results sooner than those who test negative.
People who work for YKHC not only have to be tested, but they also have to quarantine when returning from out of the region. Hodges says that the length of that quarantine varies depending on where they traveled.
“So if they traveled recently to a hot spot in the lower 48, we require that they self-isolate and quarantine for 14 days. If they traveled within the state, outside of the region, we require a five-day quarantine, along with testing, before they return to work.”
Hodges says that YKHC providers who have traveled to lower 48 hot spots cannot see patients until after the 14-day quarantine is over. Employees under 5-day quarantine may come in to work after testing negative, but they are also asked to stay at home when they are not working until 14 days after their travels. They are also asked to take their temperatures twice a day for the full 14 days and monitor for symptoms. Those who work with patients directly also have a second test.
“For our direct-patient care staff, we have a two-test strategy where they test upon arrival, generally speaking, at the airport. And then they have a second rapid test, the day before or the day they return to work,” Hodges said.
YKHC has instituted an online system to find out the results from COVID testing. If you’ve been tested, you can set up a myYKhealth account on the YKHC website to find out the results, even before health corporation staff call with the information. For information on how to do that, visit this YKHC site.