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Alaska News

Alaska coronavirus Q&A: Should I be taking vitamin D? How long does it take to get a test result?

  • Author: Morgan Krakow
  • Updated: September 22
  • Published September 22

Among the many things scientists are currently researching in relation to the new coronavirus is the role of Vitamin D.(Getty Images)

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As the pandemic wears on, we’re continuing to find answers to readers' virus-related questions. Have a question of your own? Fill out the form at the bottom of this article or do it here.

Why is so much data on the state’s dashboard listed as ‘unknown’?

Dr. Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state’s health department, said Thursday during a call with reporters that there have been lags in entering COVID-19 data, which is all centralized in the state’s coronavirus data hub.

But with new staff and a team working specifically on COVID-19 data, Castrodale said, data is expected to appear more complete in the coming weeks, with fewer data points shown as under investigation.

Of the state’s 6,658 COVID-19 cases, roughly 38% are still under investigation when it comes to a person’s race. Though health officials point to emerging trends that show racial and ethnic disparities in the existing data, it’s still incomplete.

The dashboard also displays thousands of active COVID-19 cases. Castrodale said that finding out if someone has recovered from COVID-19 takes getting touch with people and talking about when their symptoms ended.

“When there’s missing data in there, it’s because we haven’t gotten it and updated it and we’re working to do that as fast as we can,” she said.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been working “in a state of constrained resources,” from testing supplies to personnel.

“And so we have prioritized minimizing the outbreaks and improving the health and well-being of Alaskans rather than some of the documentation in a moment-by-moment real time update on the dashboard,” Zink said.

Should I be taking vitamin D?

Among the many things scientists are currently researching in relation to the new coronavirus is one familiar substance: Vitamin D.

There’s been a lot of interest in the topic, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. Some studies have shown a connection between vitamin D deficiency and the severity of COVID-19, but if someone is vitamin D deficient, they’re at risk for a whole host of possible health consequences, McLaughlin said in a public video call with other health officials on Wednesday.

Being low in vitamin D can decrease your immune system’s ability to respond to a virus, said Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist at the state’s health department, in the same video call. But, if you have the right amount of vitamin D levels, he said, taking more hasn’t been proven helpful.

Having enough vitamin D also helps people recover from respiratory infections like flu and pneumonia. Cutchins noted that it can take months to get vitamin D levels back up. He recommended people get in touch with their health care provider to talk about whether they should get their vitamin D levels tested.

Despite the state’s short winter days, the problem is not exclusive to Alaska.

"Everyone always thinks low vitamin D level is an Alaska problem, but pretty much if you live north of Arizona and Texas in the Lower 48, you don’t get enough sun exposure for vitamin D,” Cutchins said.

McLaughlin also cautioned that vitamin D can accumulate to toxic levels if a person takes too much.

How does the state calculate its testing positivity rate?

The portion of COVID-19 tests that come back positive during a certain period of time can be a good indicator of whether a place is doing enough testing, officials say.

In response to a question about how that number gets calculated for Alaska, state health officials said over email that the week’s worth of positive cases get added up and divided by the total number of tests. That data gets housed in a spreadsheet within the state’s data dashboard and appears in a graph, showing the increases and decreases in the number over time.

How long does it take to get a COVID-19 test back?

Alaska’s health department began listing testing turnaround times on its public-facing COVID-19 dashboard recently, and it shows the average time different coronavirus tests are taking. The measurement is based on the time it takes for the lab to get a result and when it was originally collected, according to the state’s health department.

Turnaround times on Monday, Sep. 22, showed public health labs were taking about two days, while turnaround times for facilities, like hospitals and health clinics, took about a day. And when it came to commercial labs, the turnaround time was slightly more than a day, according to Monday’s data.

The Municipality of Anchorage created a website that shows where and when you can get a test based on the day of the week. The information can be found at anchoragecovidtest.org. The municipality recently opened several new testing sites that are free and do not require a referral from a health care provider.

For outside of Anchorage, the state’s health department also has an interactive map that displays the various places to get a COVID-19 test around Alaska.

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