This article originally appeared at KYUK.org and is republished here with permission.
BETHEL -- A COVID-19 outbreak in Hooper Bay is the largest that the Yukon-Kuskokwim region has seen in months and the largest that Hooper Bay has ever seen.
The outbreak began in May, and 63 people have tested positive since then. As of June 18, there were about 40 active cases.
Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that the true number of cases may be higher. She said that’s because over 20% of tests are coming back positive.
“That means, to me, that there’s possibly undetected cases out there,” Hodges said.
She added that with the number of cases confirmed in Hooper Bay, the virus is likely spreading through community transmission.
Before May, only about 20 residents of Hooper Bay had tested positive for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. COVID-19 coordinator Sandra Hill said that Hooper Bay, like many other communities, dropped its quarantine requirements this spring.
Hodges said that she suspects the cases in the Hooper Bay outbreak are likely of the Alpha variant.
“And that’s simply because that’s the predominant strain that’s circulating in Anchorage and in America,” Hodges said.
Hodges has said that the Alpha variant of COVID-19 is concerning because it is more contagious and possibly more dangerous than the strain of the virus that was in the region in 2020. She said that the test samples from Hooper Bay need to be analyzed by the state lab to detect which strain of the virus they are. She said that would take a few weeks.
Almost half of Hooper Bay’s total population is vaccinated, the same percentage as the region at large. Hodges said that there are two main reasons why this outbreak in Hooper Bay occurred despite that. One is because a large portion of Hooper Bay’s population are children.
“So out of the vaccine eligible group,” Hodges said.
COVID-19 vaccinations are authorized for people 12 and older. Hodges said that about a third of those who have recently tested positive in Hooper Bay are under the age of 12, and half are younger than 18.
Hodges said that another explanation for this outbreak is that there are some vaccinated people who are testing positive.
“We would expect that in a vaccine that’s only 95% effective. So it’s not 100% effective. So yes, but an important part for listeners to be aware of is that the vaccine is extremely effective against severe disease and hospitalization. So it’s just about 100% effective against that,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that this outbreak is not an indication that the vaccine is ineffective. It’s an indication that not enough people are vaccinated.
“I think in the absence of a highly vaccinated community, we’re going to continue to see flare-ups like this of COVID-19. But if we can get up to that 70%, or even past that 70% mark of the total population vaccinated, these kinds of outbreaks will not be nearly as frequent,” Hodges said.
The bulk of this outbreak took place after the school year ended. But even if it took place during the school year, Hodges said, schools would not necessarily have to close.
“It would depend on the percentage of students that were vaccinated and teachers who were vaccinated, and whether or not we could safely quarantine cohorts of students,” Hodges said.
Hodge said that YKHC sent a COVID-19 response team to Hooper Bay on June 18 for community-wide testing.