Quinhagak and Napaskiak react to positive coronavirus test results

Quinhagak, Alaska (Photo from Alaska Department of Commerce)

Over the past week, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced that two residents of Y-K Delta villages had tested positive for the coronavirus. On June 12, Quinhagak received the news that a second resident had tested positive.

Two weeks earlier, the village dealt with its first case of coronavirus, which YKHC later said was likely a false positive. On June 15, a Napaskiak resident tested positive and then negative for the coronavirus in consecutive tests on the same day. Both communities are reacting to sometimes inconsistent test results.

Tracy Pleasant is a Quinhagak resident and a mom. Some days, she forces her kids to wear a face mask. Other days, they’re allowed to go without one. It all depends on the latest COVID-19 test result. When a 10-year-old Quinhagak girl tested positive for coronavirus on May 26, Pleasant made her kids wear masks, even when playing outside.

“And I told them not to play with other kids, only play with their siblings and cousins,” Pleasant said.

A few days later, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation said that the earlier result was likely a false positive, so Pleasant updated her kids’ mask guidance.

“When we heard it was a false positive, I didn’t ask them to put masks on,” Pleasant said.

After the most recent positive case on June 12, Pleasant flipped back to requiring masks when her kids play outside. 

Jessica Alexie, another Quinhagak resident, said that the announcement about the earlier case likely being a false positive is causing some residents to not take the most recent case as seriously. 

“I hear people say, ‘maybe it’s just a false, false positive,’” Alexie said. “But what if it’s actually positive, you know?”

Fewer residents are getting tested this time around too. Tribal Administrator Ferdinand Cleveland said that after the first positive result, about 400 people opted in for voluntary testing. This time around, he said that only around 300 residents have been tested, but he added that people might just be out fishing. 

“There’s a lot of people that are leaving town for subsisting. That might be the reason,” Cleveland said.

He said that YKHC is keeping an employee in the village until June 19 to continue testing. 

Napaskiak is another village dealing with an inconsistent test result. On June 15, a resident received two coronavirus tests: one came in positive and the other negative.

YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges says that even when tests display different results, it’s possible that both results were correct at the time the tests were conducted. She said that most of the cases in the Y-K Delta so far exhibited mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, and asymptomatic patients have different amounts of the virus that are detectable at different times.  

“So for example, if you’re an asymptomatic person and I test you at 8 a.m., you may have a high viral load. But I might test you the next day, and it might be a low viral load,” Hodges said. “The testing may be inconsistent, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t infected with the coronavirus.”

After the positive case on June 15, Napaskiak Tribal Administrator Sharon Williams urged people to behave responsibly, but not overreact.

“Right away, we advised people to be precautious, use the COVID skills, you know, 6 feet apart, use masks in public places, to wash hands often,” she said.

Williams said that a response team from YKHC arrived on the afternoon of June 15 to test close contacts of the positive individual, and widespread testing was available to anyone in the village on June 16. 

She said that as of now, Napaskiak is still allowing non-residents to travel into the village as long as they receive a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 14 days on arrival. Quinhagak currently has the same policy. Williams said that Napaskiak would lock down if any other residents tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Both Quinhagak and Napaskiak are awaiting test results for contacts of the positive cases announced over the last week to help determine if they were isolated incidents.