ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — In an unusual example of the effectiveness of social distancing, residents of a southeast Alaska fishing community have so far escaped the coronavirus pandemic without any infections.
The town of Pelican is one of the Alaska communities that has avoided the illness by remaining isolated, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
Pelican, which can only be reached by bush plane or boat, has no recorded cases of COVID-19 and has vaccinated more than half of its adults.
“Everybody claims that it’s so hard to get in and out of here. I say, that’s perfect,” Pelican Mayor Walt Weller said. “There is no better time to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.”
State officials said privacy considerations prevent them from identifying communities without cases. But discussions with residents and social media posts indicate Pelican is not alone.
Alaska’s unique geography and isolation have helped villages thwart the pandemic with astonishing success.
There are at least 10 virus-free communities from Pelican to the Aleutian Islands to deep in the Alaska Interior region, Alaska Public Media reported. In southwest Alaska, where many communities have seen major outbreaks, officials at a regional tribal health care provider said six villages still have no recorded virus cases.
Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said there is a degree of luck in play among villages that have escaped the virus completely. But she also observed “patterns of success” in those that have kept numbers low.
“Mitigation strategies work,” Zink said. “And it’s been pretty amazing to see some of these smaller communities work incredibly close together, and collaboratively, to be able to keep COVID out.”
Many of the villages without COVID-19 cases are Indigenous communities with vaccination rates exceeding 50% largely because of a statewide campaign by tribal health providers to deliver vaccinations.
“I am always concerned, until we get widespread vaccination out, about declaring victory too early,” Zink said. “But some of them, I’m really starting to feel like they may be getting close.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.