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Gambell residents endure 'hunker-down,' challenges amid local coronavirus outbreak

Oct 20, 2020

The local grocery store in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. (2017 photo by Davis Hovey/KNOM)

Gambell is having the region’s largest outbreak of Covid-19. On October 4, the community had 29 cases being reported. Residents in Gambell are living in lockdown with limited resources.

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published by KNOM in Nome on October 4. Some data may be out out of date as of this re-publishing)

Melanie Campbell is finishing up work for the day at the Gambell IRA office. It’s nearly 5pm and she hasn’t had a chance to call in her groceries to the Native store. “I kind of feel like it’s too late for me to make an order!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

With 29 cases of the virus locally, and about half of the community tested, the local store is only taking phone orders. Residents are asked to form a line, while standing 6 feet apart, and wait for the store clerk to deliver their groceries. There’s one grocery store for the community of 700 people and the phone line is constantly busy.

The lockdown is exacerbating the already delicate grocery supply chain. “We haven’t had any eggs and fresh produce in quite a while,” said Gambell City Clerk Charlotte Apatiki. She notes that several times this season the cargo plane failed to land and unload groceries.

To help the situation, Apatiki says Norton Sound Health Corporation is assisting in delivering groceries to the families in isolation.

The Gambell school is closed and right now, the Bering Strait School District is not doing meal deliveries. Many children in the community normally eat both breakfast and lunch at school.

While eggs would be nice to have for baking projects to keep her children entertained, Apatiki doesn’t think her household of six will go hungry.

“Most of us, if we were lucky to have gas during the spring harvest, are living on Native foods and fish.”

Melanie Campbell is finishing up work for the day at the Gambell IRA office. It’s nearly 5pm and she hasn’t had a chance to call in her groceries to the Native store. “I kind of feel like it’s too late for me to make an order!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

With 29 cases of the virus locally, and about half of the community tested, the local store is only taking phone orders. Residents are asked to form a line, while standing six feet apart, and wait for the store clerk to deliver their groceries. There’s one grocery store for the community of 700 people and the phone line is constantly busy.

The lockdown is exacerbating the already delicate grocery supply chain. “We haven’t had any eggs and fresh produce in quite a while,” said Gambell City Clerk Charlotte Apatiki. She notes that several times this season the cargo plane failed to land and unload groceries.

To help the situation, Apatiki says Norton Sound Health Corporation is assisting in delivering groceries to the families in isolation.

The Gambell school is closed and right now, the Bering Strait School District is not doing meal deliveries. Many children in the community normally eat both breakfast and lunch at school.

While eggs would be nice to have for baking projects to keep her children entertained, Apatiki doesn’t think her household of six will go hungry.

“Most of us, if we were lucky to have gas during the spring harvest, are living on Native foods and fish.”