Spike of COVID-19 cases in Noatak leads to lockdown and temporary school closure

An aerial view of a large building surrounded by mostly green space.
The Northwest Arctic village of Noatak. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Arctic Borough)

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Northwest Alaska, according to regional health care provider Maniilaq Association. 

Maniilaq announced 31 residents in its service area have tested positive for the virus since Sunday. Maniilaq serves Kotzebue, the surrounding 10 Northwest Arctic Borough villages and the North Slope village of Point Hope. 

The biggest spike in cases occurred in Noatak, where 18 residents tested positive. All but two of the residents are experiencing symptoms, and all of the cases are linked to another positive case of the virus. 

Noatak Tribal Administrator Rebecca Bailey said the local tribal council voted to put the village in lockdown on Tuesday. 

“No out of town visitors allowed,” Bailey said. “No intervillage travel. Only medical travel allowed at this time.”

Clusters of COVID-19 infections have also led to recent lockdowns in the Western Alaska community of Stebbins, in New Stuyahok in Southwest Alaska and Metlakatla in Southeast.

RELATED: Cluster of COVID-19 cases sends Metlakatla into lockdown

In Noatak, Bailey said, the tribe hasn’t identified a cause for the large spike in cases, but she says the spike is recent. School also just started Tuesday in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, and the rise in cases means all learning is remote in Noatak. A similar closure was made in Kobuk as well, a village that has seen seven new cases of the virus in the last week. 

All people arriving into Noatak are required to self-quarantine for 24 hours and wear a face mask in public. Additionally, everyone coming into the village must receive a negative COVID-19 test result, whether they’re vaccinated or not. 

If there is a positive case in a Noatak home, all people who live there must quarantine for at least 10 days. said says the tribe is assisting households that have positive cases.

“We have six workers who go outside their homes,” Bailey said. “They don’t enter their homes. They don’t come in contact with the people. They just pick up their money or their cards and go to the store, post office or clinic for them.”

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Noatak currently has the lowest rate of vaccination in the Maniilaq service area, with roughly a third of residents being fully vaccinated. Bailey says the tribe hasn’t been advocating for the vaccine. 

“The IRA hasn’t been pushing anyone to get vaccinated,” Bailey said. “It’s just up to yourself here in Noatak.”

Also this week, Manillaq reported nine new COVID cases in Kotzebue and a case in Point Hope from a Kotzebue resident. Of the nine cases in Kotzebue, one is from a resident of Point Hope. 

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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