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April 7 Coronavirus Update: First Case In Bethel

Registered Nurse Avelina Chung runs through protocol with a YKHC employee at the COVID-19 drive-thru test site on March 25, 2020 in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile

The first person in Bethel to test positive for the coronavirus is self-isolating at home, and likely contracted the virus while traveling. 

That’s according to Dr. Ellen Hodges, Chief of Staff at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. For patient confidentiality, Mitchel Forbes, spokesperson for YKHC, would not say when or from where the patient returned to Bethel.

“We’re very concerned about the privacy of this individual, and so we have very little information that we will be sharing on the individual,” said Forbes.                        

Dr. Hodges did not rule out the possibility of other cases of COVID-19 already in Bethel. She said that testing is the way to find out about them and help keep the community safe. 

In response to yesterday’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis in Bethel, YKHC’s staff hit the phones to reach those who had been in contact with the patient. They reached out to people who had been less than 6 feet from the infected person for more than five minutes, according to criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Alaska Section of Epidemiology. Hodges said that they were able to contact the majority of people on this list.

“We received a very positive reaction from most people wanting to be tested, and happy that they’d been informed," Hodges said. “I feel very grateful for the people who did have to get that phone call last night.”

Each person contacted was offered tests, but Hodges did not confirm whether they were taking the tests. She stressed that research shows that about a quarter of people who test positive for the virus do not show obvious symptoms.

“Many, if not most, of the people who are being tracked down and tested statewide have few, if any, symptoms. And this is really important because they’re still able to make other people sick,” said Hodges.

Hodges also said that experts are still adding to the list of symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“There are a lot of other symptoms that we’re starting to realize that people with COVID might have. So this includes a loss of a sense of smell or ability to taste, and there is a small percentage of people that have diarrhea. So those are some other things that people should be on the lookout for,” Hodges said.

Hodges says that the community has to work together to protect each other from spreading this virus. That means everyone staying at home as much as possible; wearing masks and face coverings when they go out; washing their hands; and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces like door knobs, light switches, phones, and computers. She also added the need for compassion and kindness to one another.

“I think being kind to each other and showing compassion in all that we do is essential,” said Hodges. “This is one of these diseases that is all of our responsibilities. There is not any one person who is entirely responsible for the management of a pandemic like this. We all have to do our part.”

YKHC has conducted about 70 COVID-19 tests, and 25 results are still pending. YKHC receives the results in four to seven days. Hodges said that the hospital has enough tests kits to meet the needs in the region now, but asks people to stay indoors, wear face coverings, and keep social distancing to help slow the spread of the virus in the region.  

Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
Johanna Eurich's vivid broadcast productions have been widely heard on National Public Radio since 1978. She spent her childhood speaking Thai, then learned English as a teenager and was educated at a dance academy, boarding schools and with leading intellectuals at her grandparents' dinner table in Philadelphia.