On Thursday evening, Alaska announced the state’s first positive case of COVID-19.
State health officials praised the individual, a man who arrived in Anchorage on a cargo flight, for how swiftly he acted when he suspected he had the virus. He immediately contacted a health provider, went to Alaska Regional Hospital for testing and is now is now in stable condition and in quarantine.
So what should you do if you have a fever, cough and shortness of breath and think you also might have the virus? And what happens if your doctor decides you need a test?
If you’re sick, calling a health care provider first is key, said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. This helps reduce your exposure to others and vice versa. Plus, if everyone heads to the ER, that becomes a mass gathering, Zink said — and people are being asked to avoid large gatherings, especially people with underlying medical conditions and people over age 60.
If your doctor decides you meet the testing criteria, you can get tested. Those criteria have been changing, but as of Tuesday, health officials said you can get tested if:
• You’ve been to a place experiencing community transmission, meaning the illness is spreading from person to person and you’re showing symptoms.
• You have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and you have symptoms of the disease.
• Your symptoms are severe enough and doctors don’t have another probable diagnosis.
• You live in a long-term care facilities and show symptoms of COVID-19.
• You’re a health care worker who tests negative for the flu.
If you don’t meet those criteria, but you have a mild illness and are over 60, or you have an underlying condition that puts you at an increased risk, a swab of your nose and throat may be sent to a commercial lab Outside.
If you do end up getting a test, you’ll be considered a Person Under Investigation, or a PUI.
The first step of the test can be completed almost anywhere, Zink said.
“We’re working through that system to make sure that every part of our state is able to sample for that test,” Zink said.
Tests tubes of nose and throat fluid are being sent to labs in Alaska and Outside, and the time it takes to get results depends on where they’re sent. For instance, if your symptoms are mild, that sample might be sent to a larger private lab somewhere else in the U.S. and results could take longer, Zink said.
Testing in Alaska is done at public health laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Lab scientists in Alaska said that once they begin processing a test, results can come back in four to six hours.
Zink said state labs are testing in batches to be more efficient with the test kits that they have.
On Wednesday, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said the state had the capacity to “do well over 1,000,” tests. Zink also said the state had ordered more testing supplies.
There’s no charge for the state test, Zink said.
But don’t assume the process of getting tested is free. You might be charged for going into the emergency room. Often, a deductible and copay are still associated with that type of visit, Zink said.
The state health department has cut down on the number of steps needed to test a person who might have the virus.
Previously, doctors needed to consult with state epidemiologists before sending a test sample to the state labs.
Now, doctors can just send tests straight to state labs without that extra consultation, state officials announced Tuesday.
And if you are under investigation, prepare to spend some time in isolation.
The health department recommended Wednesday that outpatients who are under investigation for COVID-19 should be taken to an “Airborne Infection Isolation Room” or a private room with a closed door if an isolation room isn’t available. The health department also recommended restricting visitors. And if you’re already hospitalized, you will be moved into an isolation room or a private room.