First positive coronavirus case reported in Kotzebue

Kotzebue as seen from the road east of town (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media, Kotzebue)

The first positive case of COVID-19 was found in Kotzebue, according to Maniilaq Association, the regional health care provider. The positive case came from someone who traveled to Kotzebue via Alaska Airlines Tuesday afternoon.

Kotzebue City Manager Jeff Congdon says the individual had arrived at the Ralph Wien Airport and was en route to a village in the region.

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“[The individual] voluntarily took the COVID-19 test at the airport and tested positive and has been quarantined in Kotzebue,” Congdon said.

Congdon says that there are other passengers on the flight who may have had contact with the person who tested positive. They are also quarantining in Kotzebue.

“Maniilaq is doing tests and monitoring those individuals and also doing contact tracing on the individual who tested positive to find out any other information that they can,” Congdon said.

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Contact tracing is a term from the Centers for Disease Control that means identifying who an infected person may have had contact with.

The Northwest Arctic Borough was set to amend its local health mandate to slowly open up the borough from its previous “hunker down” mandate on Tuesday evening. After the first positive COVID-19 case occurred, the Borough announced that it was retracting the latest mandate extending its “hunker down” mandate, to last through  May 31.

That includes a borough-wide curfew from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Lucy Nelson says that the person who tested positive is not a resident of the borough. She says the fact that a resident of the borough has not yet tested positive shows how effective the borough’s health mandates have been.

“When we put this hunkering down into place, it was to slow and prevent this disease from entering and growing,” Nelson said. “So it’s really important that people follow these practices of distancing, of wearing masks, washing your hands.”

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This is the first positive case of COVID-19 in the Northwest Arctic Borough, and one of roughly 400 positive cases statewide. The borough has about 7,600 citizens from Kotzebue and ten smaller village communities.

This story has been updated.

Wesley Early is a reporter with Alaska Public Media, covering municipal politics and Anchorage life.

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