Alaska sees strong demand for at-home COVID-19 tests with 25,000 coming to Anchorage

Alaska is said to have adequate supplies of at-home COVID-19 test kits, but many Alaskans want them, particularly during the holidays.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 6:51 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Communities across Alaska are distributing thousands of free at-home COVID-19 test kits during the holidays, and 25,000 kits will soon be available in Anchorage, city officials say.

Since Oct. 10, the state of Alaska’s warehouse has received 151,100 rapid antigen kits. Sarah Hargrave, Southeast regional public health nurse manager for the state of Alaska, said close to 100,000 kits have been sent out across Alaska.

They’re available, or will soon be available, at 16 Alaska public health centers. They are set to be distributed across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough — where the Mat-Su Health Foundation purchased and distributed 26,000 at-home tests throughout the Valley last month as well — and in communities like Petersburg and Nome. School districts have ordered them and so have fire departments and universities.

Corey Allen Young, a spokesperson for Mayor Dave Bronson’s office, said on Friday that the Municipality of Anchorage had secured 25,000 at-home kits from the state that will be dropped off on Monday. They will be available for everyone at testing sites, Young said, and other busy locations like libraries.

Earlier in the year, the municipality bought 25,000 rapid at-home test kits that were then distributed to adult living facilities for staff and residents. The goal was to help the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Currently, Anchorage residents can buy the kits from a list of private providers and some people can get them for free. They are also available for people arriving at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport through a pilot program.

The City and Borough of Juneau is distributing the at-home kits at its three libraries and at City Hall, among other locations.

Robert Barr, deputy Juneau city manager, says the kits have proven very popular, particularly during the holidays due to their ease of use. The kits, while not as reliable when it comes to negative results as a laboratory test, give results in 10 or 15 minutes.

Across the United States, and especially on the East Coast, there have been long lines for the tests and some states have been in short supply. President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to distribute 500 million kits through an initiative announced earlier in the week.

State health officials say Alaska has “an adequate supply” of the tests for the size of its population. Around 1,100 are being sent from the state to Juneau each week, but that doesn’t match demand in the city and some distribution locations may close as stocks are depleted.

“Demand is simply outpacing supply,” Barr said.

Health officials are estimating that Juneau will keep needing double the amount of the at-home tests each week in coming months, particularly with an expected omicron variant case surge.

One option is for Juneau officials to order their own at-home test kits for the next six months separate to the state. Barr says the city is exploring that idea and whether that would be reimbursed by the federal government. If not, they could cost Juneau at least $1 million, Barr added.

“I think we’re at a point where there’s a lot of demand for them and everybody wants to have them, right now,” Hargrave said.

She noted that there are many other testing options available across Alaska. Anchorage transitioned to having Capstone Family Medicine run testing sites in the city. Those tests are taken onsite, but are free for everyone, regardless of insurance coverage.

How to use at-home rapid tests

Each at-home kit comes with two tests to be used by one person.

“You should use both,” Hargrave said.

A positive test is almost always a positive case, she explained, but it gets tricky if someone is symptomatic and tests negative on their first try before a holiday event.

“You really want to have those two tests — two negative tests — 24 to 36 hours apart to feel really comfortable that that really is a negative test,” she added.

Not allowing the tests to get too hot or too cold is also critical. Health officials say they shouldn’t be left in a car outside overnight, for example, especially in winter.

Some communities, including Juneau, are limiting the number of free at-home test kits to two per household that are then used when needed. Barr says it’s an honor system with supplies strained.

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