Nome hospital reopens after positive tests among workers

Image at top: The COVID-19 testing drive-up tent outside the Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome. Photo from Reba Lean, NSHC (2020).

Healthcare workers returned to the Norton Sound Regional Hospital this week following the facility closing its doors to the public on Friday. It was originally closed at the same time two employees from Nome’s regional hospital tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

According to Norton Sound Health Corporation’s CEO, Angie Gorn,“both new cases are NSHC employees, they are Nome community members, and they are not traveling or itinerant staff.”

Nearly all NSHC staff in Nome were tested by this morning and went back to work, according to Gorn, as long as they had a negative result and weren’t required to self-quarantine due to close contact with one of the two confirmed cases. The final 25 or so employees were tested later on in the day.

Every 14 days, Gorn says their employees will continue to be tested for COVID-19, on a mandatory basis. According to NSHC’s Medical Director, Dr. Mark Peterson, any employees that were scheduled to travel for village trips this week are holding off until next week.

Dr. Peterson, says the two Nome-based employees who tested positive for the virus within 24 hours of each other, did not associate at all.

“They don’t work in the same areas, they’re far apart, and they don’t have any connection outside, so this appears to be community spread of the virus. Now, we know the virus is here, right? Because we had our first case in early April, we haven’t had one for quite a while,” said Peterson.

But as Peterson goes on to say, while NSHC continues to test even more community members, he expects this will reveal more cases of COVID-19 in Nome and the region.

“We didn’t want to see any additional cases. I mean, we never do. But I’ll tell you what: when we catch these, and early like this, it’s a good feeling to catch it that early, that’s the whole point. The other thing is that we feel good about is the state Epi was very impressed with all the procedures we have in place. Everybody has got a mask on, everybody has got a mask on, everybody is social distancing,”

Both employees with the virus continue to self-isolate and currently are not going to work at NSHC facilities.

If you live in Nome and would like to receive a free COVID-19 test, whether you are experiencing symptoms of the virus or not, you can visit the drive-up tent at the regional hospital Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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