Health authority recommends masking most Y-K community schools

Three students in front of yellow lockers
Former high school seniors Kayden King, Shaun Peter, and Thomas Phelan on their first day back in school after a year of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. March 11, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta students may be wearing masks when they start school in August.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced this week that it still supports full-time, in-person learning and extracurricular activities when school starts next month.

However, due to the threat of COVID-19 variants, YKHC is recommending students and staff practice universal masking if less than 70% of the entire community is fully vaccinated, or if there are any active local cases of COVID-19.

In the Y-K Delta, only Mekoryuk and Anvik meet YKHC’s threshold for students and staff to be unmasked. In most communities, vaccination rates have hovered around 50% of the total population for weeks. Over the past 10 days, 39 individuals in 9 villages have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Since May, Hooper Bay has experienced over 150 COVID-19 cases despite nearly 50% of the population being vaccinated. YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges has said as long as vaccination rates remain below 70%, outbreaks like Hooper Bay’s will likely continue to occur.  

Three people in the region were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in July, after several months without any hospitalizations due to the virus. With the delta variant, a more dangerous and contagious strain of the virus, making its way into the Y-K Delta, doctors anticipate more hospitalizations.

YKHC recommends wearing masks at all times indoors while in school, including on school buses. YKHC is also recommending many of the same precautions as last school year: 3 feet of physical distancing within classrooms, cohorting groups of students together, and at minimum, weekly testing of students and staff.