Samaritan’s Purse, a faith-based organization based in North Carolina, has committed one of its emergency field hospitals to King Salmon, Alaska, as the commercial fishing season brings an influx of workers that could bring a localized outbreak of COVID-19 with them.

Photo above: Franklin Graham with Naknek Mayor Daniel O’Hara.

“Many locals are frightened, remembering what happened when the Spanish flu came through in 1918 and wiped out entire families,” Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham posted on Facebook. “Thankfully, the government of Alaska has set up many protocols to identify possible cases and mitigate the spread.”

Graham has earlier this month met with officials from the Dunleavy Administration, as well as military and local leaders. Samaritan’s Purse staff members participated in assessing the region’s needs and capacity. 

“This response anticipates the possibility of novel coronavirus affecting Bristol Bay communities, including Naknek, South Naknek, and King Salmon. Beginning in June, more than 10,000 fishermen and workers from across the globe are expected to travel to the ‘Red Salmon Capital of the World.’”

“With so many outsiders descending on the area, any virus spike could overwhelm local medical services and prove catastrophic for the region’s several hundred permanent residents, about one-third of whom are Native Alaskans,” the group said on its website.

“We are also prepared to send COVID-19 response teams into the surrounding communities to help with prevention and awareness.”

Samaritan’s Purse has worked in Alaska for many years, bringing the hope of the Gospel to dozens of communities. Since 2006, its volunteer teams have completed 31 construction projects, including worship centers for congregations that need a warm, safe place to meet for services.

In Port Alsworth, Samaritan’s Purse has hosted more than 1,100 U.S. military couples through Operation Heal Our Patriots, with Bible-based marriage enrichment training and spiritual refreshment.

Most recently, in April, Samaritan’s Purse airlifted to Alaska over eight tons of supplies critical for the fight against the pandemic. At Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s request, the group provided hospital beds, thermometers, and personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and gowns. The critical resources were delivered through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to rural areas of the state that are extremely vulnerable to the virus due to a lack of medical infrastructure.

Samaritan’s Purse has been at the forefront of the international response to COVID-19, deploying emergency field hospitals in Cremona, Italy, and New York City. Both sites closed recently after treating hundreds of COVID-19 patients over the past two months.

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