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Pilot program offering take-home COVID tests takes off at the Anchorage airport

A pilot program at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is providing take-home rapid COVID-19 tests to travelers.
Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 9:16 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Travel at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is taking off this holiday season, and Alaska health officials hope to keep COVID-19 in check by offering passengers rapid take-home COVID-19 tests through a new pilot program offered by the state.

Alaska received about 50,000 take-home rapid tests through the federal government for the pilot program that got underway Tuesday, according to Alaska’s COVID-19 testing lead Dr. Coleman Cutchins. It’s a move that has been being planned for several weeks, he said.

“These are good tests. You know, they’re not substandard. Every test is sort of a different tool and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tool,” Cutchins said. “... I encourage people to think about having these on hand, you know using them for travel, even having them for home.”

Rapid antigen tests can be slightly less sensitive when it comes to getting a negative result, but they are highly accurate at detecting a positive COVID-19 case.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is offering them through their existing testing contract with the Capstone Clinic, and they can be found behind the TSA security checkpoint for anyone who wants them. Previously, testing was near the baggage claim, but they announced it had been moved on Wednesday. Testing at the airport will now be located behind security and only available for ticketed passengers.

“When we think about over-the-counter self-tests, the classic example I always think of is a home pregnancy test,” Cutchins said. It’s a test that you can buy, follow the directions with yourself, collect the sample yourself, and interpret the results yourself.”

This kind of testing helps remove barriers to access, like needing to visit a health care provider or needing insurance, Cutchins said.

He added the take-home rapid tests are a good option for travelers to grab and use a couple of days pre-and post-travel since people don’t immediately test positive after exposure to COVID-19.

The state health department wanted to roll out the pilot program during the busy holiday travel season to gauge travelers’ interest, and when the program finishes, they’ll see how many tests were taken compared to the number of travelers the airport saw.

They’re hoping to expand rapid testing availability to airports in Juneau and Fairbanks next when tests become more widely available in January 2022.

This pilot program follows other efforts to get rapid tests out into communities in Alaska. Earlier this month, the Mat-Su Health Foundation dispersed 26,000 take-home tests to residents throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for free.

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