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Website to order at-home COVID tests launches, but Alaskans will have other options than cold mailboxes

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 5:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The federal website to order at-home COVID-19 tests has launched a day early, and many Alaskans are putting in orders for their at-home deliveries, but state health leaders are warning residents that the at-home tests need to be stored in a warm place. That means not leaving the delivery sitting in your mailbox for hours.

Dr. Coleman Cutchins, the state’s testing coordinator, says it’s best to track your shipment and ensure someone will be home to receive it.

“(In) general, overall is most of them cannot freeze,” Cutchins said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “So that means the things inside the test: the card, the reagents, getting below freezing.”

According to the U.S. Postal Service, which is delivering the tests through the federal program, only residential addresses and residential P.O. Boxes may be used. It will not hold deliveries or deliver to a business address. Only one order may be placed per household, and the USPS says they should ship within seven to 12 days. Each shipment will contain four tests.

A USPS spokesperson contacted by Alaska’s News Source Tuesday said he didn’t have information to share on climate-controlled shipment or other options for Alaskans.

Cutchins said the federal government had discussed mass temperature-controlled shipments, but that no more information had come to the states.

“There was also a lot of talk about a separate amount of tests going to federally qualified health centers and community health centers that would be separate from these, because it’s easier to mass ship things temperature-controlled verses one-offs,” Cutchins said.

There will be other options to acquire tests in Alaska, though. The Health Resources and Services Administration is getting at-home tests to federally qualified health centers and other local clinics, where residents can pick up a test at no cost. Insurance providers are now required to cover the cost of an at-home test as well. Those tests are not yet in Alaska though, Cutchins said, as the supply of at-home tests is extremely scarce.

The federal government has redirected much of the nation’s supply to its program, said Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace Tuesday morning.

“We just can’t locate or procure kits,” he said during a media availability. “The feds have taken the primary position, the same thing happened with PPE (personal protective equipment), if you remember back in the beginning of ‘20 they preempted all sales to the feds.”

Cutchins, with the state’s testing program, said there’s hope that in the next two to four weeks more at-home tests will be available outside the federal distribution chain. But for now, the surge in cases due to the omicron variant is causing similar woes in the supply chain as it is for restaurants and other employers.

“The virus and outbreaks in places are just affecting so much of our logistical chain that we’re also hearing there’s a lot of manufacturers that have huge containers of hundreds of thousands, millions of these things sitting in the ocean waiting to be offloaded at a port,” he said. “So I think as soon as that clears up, we’re going to see more and more commercial availability of them.”

For those without traditional home delivery addresses, Cutchins expects more information in the coming days on the alternative venues to acquire a test.

“We’ll have more information available probably every day this week,” he said.

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