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Rural Alaska

Officials urge sheltering in place, mandate mask wearing in Y-K Delta village of Napaskiak

Napaskiak sits on the Kuskokwim River just downstream from Bethel on Thursday, August 28, 2014, in Western Alaska. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)

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Authorities are recommending protective measures in the Kuskokwim River village of Napaskiak — including sheltering in place and wearing masks in public — to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the isolated community of about 400 people.

Regional health organization Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. announced Thursday that, in consultation with the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, it “believes there is a strong likelihood that sporadic community spread of the novel coronavirus” is occurring in Napaskiak.

Municipal and tribal leaders have enacted protective measures that include requiring masks be worn in public places where maintaining physical distancing isn’t possible, and advising residents to shelter in place until July 5, according to a joint statement from YKHC, the Napaskiak Tribal Council and the City of Napaskiak.

Local leaders issued the statement “to warn others we believe community spread may be occurring and so individuals can take appropriate measures to reduce exposure to or spread of the virus.”

YKHC spokeswoman Tiffany Zulkosky said the health organization couldn’t provide details, but that YKHC consulted with state epidemiologists during ongoing contact investigations for recent positive cases in the region. That process revealed the possibility for community spread in the village, she said.

Officials are asking residents to cover their faces in public, stay home with household members, and leave only for medical necessity or “critical needs like quick runs to the grocery store” with limited numbers of people. The Napaskiak Tribal Council is encouraging residents to avoid gatherings.

YKHC is sending a provider to the Napaskiak Clinic on Friday to conduct screening and testing of people with COVID-19 symptoms during the week, through July 1. People without symptoms who want to be tested can do so at the clinic over the weekend, without an appointment.

YKHC will offer no-appointment drive-thru testing in Bethel every Wednesday starting July 1. The organization began drive-up testing in March and also provides free, voluntary testing at the Bethel airport for passengers arriving from Anchorage.

The health corporation on Wednesday announced it was recommending that a village it declined to name put in place a mask requirement and extend a shelter-in-place order through July 5. Officials said a Bethel resident who tested positive for the illness Wednesday traveled to the unidentified village while possibly infectious.

The identity of the village — Napaskiak — was provided Thursday in coordination with tribal and city leadership.

Local and tribal officials weren’t available for comment Thursday afternoon.

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