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Rural Alaska

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta contends with ‘dramatic surge in COVID-19’

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Local health officials announced dozens of new COVID-19 cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on Tuesday and warned of a “dramatic surge in COVID-19″ in the region.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. on Tuesday reported 78 new cases in the region and announced Monday’s death of a resident in their 70s, marking the Y-K Delta’s second virus-related death in the past week.

Around six patients were transported out of the region by medevac to receive “more advanced care,” and two people remain hospitalized in Bethel, said Tiffany Zulkosky, YKHC vice president of communications. Several individuals with serious infections were flown to Anchorage for care, according to YKHC.

Most of the new cases announced Tuesday involved residents of smaller communities, including Chevak, where 51 residents tested positive for COVID-19. Chevak — which has a population of about 1,000 — went into lockdown on Oct. 12, KYUK reported, and on Saturday health and tribal officials announced that there was evidence of community spread within the village.

Eleven Toksook Bay residents, eight Quinhagak residents, five Bethel residents, a Hooper Bay resident and two other YK-Delta residents account for the rest of the cases that YKHC announced.

Many of the cases were not included Tuesday in the state health department’s COVID-19 data, which is updated daily and reflects test results returned the previous day.

There are at least three Y-K Delta villages contending with active outbreaks involving wide community spread, said Dr. Ellen Hodges, YKHC chief of staff, at a state legislative hearing on Tuesday. There are currently 150 active cases, and contact tracers are reaching out to more than 500 close contacts.

“These (deaths and hospitalizations) represent an increase in the severity and acuity of the outbreak in our region,” she said.

While the state does not report the name of smaller communities for privacy reasons, YKHC said last week that it “began receiving written authorization from Tribal leadership to disclose the name of communities in public notifications when positive COVID-19 test results affect villages in our service area” as a matter of public health interest.