Capstone Clinic, one of Alaska’s largest private COVID-19 testing providers, said this week that it plans to shutter all of its public testing sites in Alaska by June 30.
That includes seven testing locations: two in Anchorage — at Alaska Park and East 104th Avenue — plus one each in Eagle River, Wasilla, Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks.
The decision was primarily a financial one, Matt Jones, Capstone’s director of non-clinical operations, said Wednesday.
It began with an abrupt move by the federal government earlier this year to no longer cover the costs of COVID-19 tests or treatments for those without health insurance beginning in March, Jones said.
Capstone lost out on about $1 million in reimbursements due to the short timeline of when claims could still be filed, Capstone president Dennis Spencer said in March.
For a while, Capstone was able to absorb the costs, but low testing volume in recent weeks eventually made operations financially unsustainable, Jones said this week.
During the recent omicron surge, the company was doing around 3,000 tests per day, he said. By June, the number was closer to 200 or 250 tests per day — about a 90% drop.
“While we were happy to provide testing for the public as long as we possibly could, we can’t do it to the detriment of our own company,” Jones said.
Capstone’s decision comes at a moment when Alaska’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are again on the rise: On Wednesday, the state reported a 35% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations compared to the previous week, and federal rankings showed that Alaska now has the seventh highest new case rate in the nation.
The impact the site closures could have on Alaskans’ access to COVID-19 tests wasn’t immediately clear. In Anchorage, at least two public test sites operated by Fairweather are still up and running, plus one at the Alaska Airlines Center.
But Jones said that in a few communities — including Ketchikan and Juneau — Capstone sites were among the last remaining public sites where people could access free drive-up testing.
“We probably were their last big testing sites, but the volume in those locations is, really we’re talking about maybe 10 to 12 tests a day,” he said.
Alaskans in those communities will still be able to access at-home rapid tests (which can be ordered online for free from the federal government at covid.gov/tests) or through local pharmacies, Jones said.
He said the move also reflected a broader, nationwide shift away from mass clinic-based PCR testing to home tests, which health officials have said are considered less sensitive than molecular-based tests but still accurate when used correctly.
“It’s not a decision that we made very lightly,” he said. “But it’s hard for us to continue testing at what we forecasted the loss of revenue would be.”
During the peak of the pandemic, the company was operating 21 testing and vaccination sites around the state, including some in communities where Capstone was the sole provider. Since March 2020, it had tested over 600,000 people and employed more than 400 workers at testing and vaccination sites, according to a company statement.
By June 2022, seven Capstone testing sites were still open to the public, Jones said. All will suspend operations by the end of the month. Established patients who visit a Capstone Clinic will still be able to see a provider for a test, he said.
The announcement came a few days after Alaska’s health commissioner said that on July 1, the state will end a public health emergency order that’s been in place in response to the pandemic.
Jones said the end of the public health emergency was not a factor in the decision to shut down the sites.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of people employed at Capstone’s testing and vaccination sites. There were more than 400, not 40.