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How frequently should you get tested for COVID-19?

Anchorage Health officials say it depends on what you’re up to
A sample being put into a bag to be processed for COVID-19 at ANMC.
A sample being put into a bag to be processed for COVID-19 at ANMC.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 8:06 PM AKST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2020 at 8:06 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At this point, most people in Alaska probably know what it’s like to get tested for COVID-19. Alaska’s testing efforts consistently put the state as one of the most tested states per capita according to the CDC. Even so, local health leaders are urging folks to get more.

The Anchorage Emergency Operations Center recently put out an alert that everyone should “just get tested,” even if they don’t have symptoms. EOC Spokesperson Audrey Gray explained what they were aiming for when the alert went out.

“We wanted to make sure that people who may be asymptomatic. That they didn’t feel they were wasting a test,” Gray said.

Gray explained further that testing at the rate Alaska does is crucial to response in the right way. She said it not only allows health care providers to understand the amount of virus in the population as a whole, but also where concentrated outbreaks happen. She also said it lets hospitals know what they need to be prepared for.

She added that people who have yet to get a test since the pandemic got here should get one.

If you ask Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston, the amount of testing Alaska does is reassuring, however, the number of those tests that come back positive is not. She said it’s often at 10% or higher these days.

“You know, we see the case counts have gone up, but when the case count goes up at the same time the percent of positive tests goes up it makes me think that there’s a lot more disease out there that we’re not tracking yet,” she said.

How often one gets tested depends on their daily routine and what one does outside of that, according to Johnston.

She said it would be reasonable for folks who have jobs dealing with a lot of people — health care workers, grocery store workers, etc. — to get tested every week or two. She also said those who still find themselves in crowds and tight quarters should consider this too, especially if they’ve been in those places without a mask.

“If you’re in a big group of people right now, there’s a good chance that somebody in that crowd has COVID,” Johnston said.

As for the homebodies who rarely leave home and practice social distancing often, she said they don’t need to get tested as often.

If you’re one of those people, but recently were in a crowd or tight quarter situation, she said you should get tested, but wait until about a week after the event.

Gray said the EOC has set up pop-up testing sites to be active in neighborhoods where transportation might be an issue. She said these will be available in November and December. The EOC is waiting to see if they’ll keep setting these up into January according to Gray.

Since March, the Lake Otis testing site has been the most well-known and most frequented site in Anchorage. Gray said if you’re getting tested soon, try to either use a pop-up site close to your neighborhood or a different location. She said the Lake Otis site is operating just fine, but it’s been so busy for months that they’re trying to spread out where people are getting tested.

Don’t forget, getting a test is free for Alaska residents.

“They aren’t even going to ask you for an insurance card,” Gray said, “They’re going to ask you, ‘did you preregister?’ and if not they’re going to register you and then do a test.”

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