The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation said that the person was traveling from Anchorage when they tested positive at the Bethel airport before heading to a nearby village the same day. YKHC received the confirmed lab results on Friday, May 15.
Nunapitchuk residents confirmed that the traveler arrived in their village, and community leaders announced a lockdown Friday afternoon.
YKHC says that the person was not showing symptoms of COVID-19 when they were tested, and they are now self-isolating. YKHC is sending a team to the village on Friday for screening and rapid testing. Nunapitchuk resident Jacob Tobeluk says that it feels eerie in the community as residents hunker in their homes.
"My youngest daughter loves to go out to socialize," Tobeluk said. "The first thing I did, my wife called our youngest daughter and told her to come home."
Tobeluk, who also works for the city, said that community leaders met Friday to plan how they would handle the case. Nunapitchuk just lifted some of its travel restrictions two days ago, but immediately restored them May 15.
"There's going to be only a few essential workers that will be working, but all the other departments will be closed until further notice," Tobeluk said.
YKHC began offering COVID-19 testing to all passengers arriving into Bethel at the airport three weeks ago on April 23. Less than half of passengers have opted for testing, and YKHC urges in a press release that “this case highlights the urgent need for all passengers to be tested.”
In a statement, Dan Winkelman, YKHC president and CEO, said, “We are looking to the day that 100% of Alaska Airlines passengers arriving in Bethel opt for testing by our teams.”
YKHC also says the case highlights the importance of handwashing and masking. The organization encourages social distancing, quarantining, and regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces at homes.
The only other confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was announced more than a month ago on April 6. This second case comes a week after Gov. Mike Dunleavy began his second phase of re-opening Alaska’s economy by loosening social distancing restrictions and allowing many businesses to operate at higher capacities.
Earlier this week, the City of Nunapitchuk said that it would declare a state of emergency to repair damage caused by the worst flooding the village experienced in a decade. The high water on the Johnson River rose over the weekend, following breakup, and damaged two homes, boat docks, and the boardwalk.