All Sitkans to Get Offer of Free Tests

Category: Local News
Created on Tuesday, 07 July 2020 16:03

By SHANNON HAUGLAND

Sentinel Staff Writer

Starting Saturday, testing for the COVID-19 virus will be available to everyone in Sitka, regardless of whether they have symptoms, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced Monday.

Testing by “self-swab nasal collection” will be available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the drive-up testing center next to Mountainside Family Clinic, 209 Moller Avenue, the health consortium said. Walk-ups or bike-ups are welcome, SEARHC marketing and communications director Maegan Bosak said.

There is no charge for the testing, which is being funded through a grant from the US. Indian Health Service, SEARHC said.

“We have been wanting to provide asymptomatic testing for quite some time and finally have the resources to do so,” Bosak said. “We’re excited for all of the communities.”

The hours will be the same for the clinics in Wrangell and Juneau, with other programs at SEARHC communities across Southeast starting later this month, SEARHC said. In Juneau the free testing of asymptomatic individuals will be limited to tribal beneficiaries, the news release said.

Dr. Elliot Bruhl, SEARHC senior vice president and chief medical officer, said in a news release, said the consortium is pleased to be offering the service throughout the region.

“Quickly identifying and responding to positive cases in our communities is the most effective way to combat the pandemic,” he said in the announcement. “Asymptomatic testing will be a reality in the coming weeks and paint a clear picture of how COVID has penetrated our region.”

Testing at Sitka’s drive-up facility Monday through Friday will be reserved for symptomatic testing and referral- based testing, as required for work or medical procedures, for example, Bosak said.

Commenting on the benefits of increasing testing, state Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said she is pleased to see “another additional layer of testing” available.

“Public Health receives several calls asking about testing and how to go about getting tested if one doesn’t have symptoms,” she said in an emailed comment to the Sentinel. “We have been waiting for asymptomatic testing for the general population and happy SEARHC is willing and able to provide this service. We have seen success in finding positive passengers with testing of asymptomatic people at the airport, and when they follow the quarantine mandate and go directly into quarantine until they receive their test results, what a difference this has made in the reduction of spreading COVID-19 into our community.”

But Ewing added that testing on its own won’t prevent or control COVID, and reminded the public to continue following guidelines.

“Without social distancing, wearing of masks and keeping our social bubble very SMALL, all the testing in the world won’t be enough,” she wrote.

Ewing, who spends the majority of her time contact tracing to determine the source of every positive coronavirus case, acknowledged that there’s a certain weariness setting in among the public. But letting up is not an option if Alaska wants to prevent the spread of the virus, she said.

“We have to dig deep, find additional ways to social distance and yet keep our social selves not feeling deprived,” she said. “Get creative, enjoy the summer, and do it in a way that shows our BETTER human side. SEARHC and Public Health are doing our part, and with everyone doing their part we will get there.”

Bosak said the testing type for the expanded testing program will be self-swab nasal collection, and staff will be available at the testing sites to instruct and answer questions.

More information on SEARHC’s pandemic response, including testing guidelines, is available at:

 

covid19.searhc.org or contact the COVID-19 Hotline at 907.966.8799.