As COVID cases surge in Bristol Bay Borough, Camai health center asks people to get tested

Sep 30, 2021

The recent cases are due to community spread of the virus. Some restaurants and bars have closed temporarily. The borough’s health center is asking people to remain vigilant — and get tested.

Screengrab from an Alaska Department of Health and Social Services video. A Camai Community Health Center worker tests someone for COVID-19.
Credit Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

The Bristol Bay Borough is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases due to community spread of the virus.

“We have gone from zero cases to 19 in a matter of two weeks now,” said Mary Swain, the executive director of the Camai Community Health Center in Naknek.

As of today, there were 13 active cases in the borough — that is, people who have tested positive within the last 10 days. 

Over the weekend, seven people in the borough tested positive for the disease. Another person tested positive on Wednesday. A total of 23 people in the Bristol Bay Borough tested positive for COVID-19 in September.

Camai estimates that 93% of Bristol Bay Borough residents have been vaccinated against the virus. Of the 23 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in September, three were vaccinated.

Two restaurants in King Salmon, Eddie's Fireplace Inn and the Sockeye Saloon, have had to close temporarily, as have bars in Naknek. 

Swain said the main concern of health care providers in the borough is the lack of testing.

“Although we are getting people to test again, the lack of testing — we don’t know really what’s out there, just because we haven’t seen a lot of testing. The more testing we take, the sooner we can put somebody into quarantine and not spread.”

Camai is running around 60 tests a week at the school, and Swain said there aren’t any cases there right now.

“It’s more of the young adults that we’re seeing positive cases in. And we just implore anybody and everybody to test,” she said.

As the virus spreads around the community, Swain said, contact tracing has become difficult. For one, the borough doesn’t have a state public health clinic.

“Public health for us is stationed in Mat-Su Borough, and they are overrun with cases in the region — they handle the entire region," she said. "And so community members may not get a call from public health.”

That means Camai is handling contact tracing for all three communities in the borough.

“To help people through their isolation time, contact close contacts, which means contact tracing is not happening like it should,” Swain said.

Another challenge is that people aren’t necessarily following quarantine recommendations, which puts their fellow community members at risk.

“We’re seeing a lot of close contacts, because Public Health is not following up with them, out and about in the community," she said. "And unfortunately, we can’t say anything about it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there as to what close contact means. There’s also miscommunication as to what it means when you’re vaccinated and you’re a positive case.”

Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days, even if they’re vaccinated.

According to Camai, close contacts who are unvaccinated should quarantine for 14 days. Those who are vaccinated and don’t have any symptoms should monitor their health for 14 days and wear a mask when around others. Those who are vaccinated and have symptoms should quarantine for at least 10 days or until their symptoms have stopped. All close contacts should get a COVID-19 test on or after day five of quarantine.

If you are in the borough you can get tested for COVID-19 from 1 - 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Camai’s Leader Creek testing site. You are eligible for a test once every 10 days. If you need a test on another day, call Camai at 907-246-6155.

Screenshot of a map from Alaska Department of Health and Social Services dashboard. It shows a total of 47 cases reported over the past 7 days in the combined Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs. Sept. 30, 2021

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.