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Alaska News

Hundreds of thousands of rapid-response COVID-19 tests headed to Alaska

  • Author: Annie Berman
  • Updated: October 27
  • Published October 26
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Abbott Laboratories' BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 nasal swab test (Abbott Laboratories via AP)

A total of 220,000 rapid-response COVID-19 tests will soon be en route to Alaska, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.

The shipment is intended “to facilitate the continued re-opening of Alaska schools, businesses and economy,” the health department said in a written statement.

The point-in-care antigen tests, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, are about the size of a credit card and can diagnose coronavirus infections within 15 minutes.

To use the BinaxNOW test, a healthcare worker lays the card flat, adds extraction reagent to the test card, and takes a nasal swab from the patient. The swab is then added to the test card, and the cover is folded over.

After about 15 minutes, the result will display on the card: two pink lines for positive, one for negative.

A free mobile app paired with the test allows patients to scan a QR code on the card and upload their results.

The state will decide how the tests are distributed. They are “to support testing K-12 students, teachers, nursing home patients and staff, higher education, critical infrastructure, first responders, and other priorities as (the governor) sees fit," the department said.

The state’s testing priority right now is congregate settings, and people with symptoms, said Coleman Cutchins, a pharmacist with Alaska Department of Health and Social Services who is helping coordinate the state’s coronavirus response.

The department said it has already sent over 58,000 of the rapid-response tests to Alaska to places like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It said the state indicated that the incoming tests could go to marine trade schools, oil work camps and school districts. Long-term care facilities can also request the tests, the department said.

The announcement comes in the midst of a second surge in virus cases in Alaska that shows no signs of slowing.

Daily case counts have been in the triple digits for more than a month, hospitalizations have been rising, and on Sunday, the state set a new record with 526 new cases reported around the state in a single day.

Widespread testing with quick turnarounds has long been lauded by public health experts as a key tool for getting the pandemic under control.

This spring and summer, Alaska implemented a testing strategy more extensive than most.

But in recent weeks, the state’s average test positivity rate has climbed above 5%, a metric that health experts say could indicate not enough testing is being done and that widespread community transmission continues.

As of Monday afternoon, the average turnaround time for tests processed by the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories was just under three days, according to the state’s coronavirus testing dashboard.

According to their packaging, the rapid-response tests are intended for people with virus symptoms early on in their illness.

While antigen tests can be a useful diagnostic tool, they are generally less sensitive than the viral PCR tests, and perform best when a person’s viral load is the greatest, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Testing is not substitute for avoiding crowded indoor spaces, washing one’s hands, or wearing a mask when not able to physically distance," U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said in the written statement announcing the shipment.

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