Updated 2 p.m. Oct. 23, 2020
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region is experiencing a huge increase in COVID-19 cases. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported that if the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta were a state, it would have the fourth highest rate of cases in the country. Dr. Ellen Hodges, Chief of Staff at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, said that what is happening in the region is following a pattern set in Alaska’s urban areas.
“So it’s the same thing that happened in Anchorage, where at the very beginning there was a smattering of travel-related cases and outbreaks associated with that," said Hodges. "And now we have entered the stage where we have widespread community transmission here in Bethel and some of our villages.”
Over 1,000 people in the region are in quarantine, either because they have tested positive for the virus or have been in close contact with someone who has. The health corporation only has seven contact tracers, and the team is beginning to conserve its resources. The transmission is so widespread in Chevak and Quinhagak that YKHC is no longer tracing the source and contacts of each person who tests positive there. Case investigations will occur only in certain circumstances. However, contact tracers will continue their daily calls to check in on people who tested positive for the virus.
The danger is that the region could easily exceed its capacity to treat those who fall ill from the disease. Hodges pointed to the need to transport those who need extensive ICU care to Anchorage, which is also experiencing a surge in cases of COVID-19.
“Just the other day, I think two days, again the ICU at ANMC was once again on divert and unable to accept ICU patients. So we had to send our ICU COVID patient to another hospital," said Hodges.
All public health professionals are urging people to take the familiar precautions, like wearing masks outside the home, adding that it’s also important to limit social circles to those in your own home and to stay at home as much as possible.
“We need to really make sure that people are “hunkering down" at home with only the people they reside in a home with,” said YKHC Vice President of Communications Tiffany Zulkosky. “This is not the time, this is not the year to be attending or hosting gatherings of any kind. Until we see every resident in our region really doing the difficult work to change behavior, transmission is likely going to continue.”
Hodges and Zulkosky’s entire conversation on “Coffee at KYUK” can be heard on the KYUK website.