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With increased demand, drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Anchorage will remain open

Josh Jones, left, takes a nasal swab sample from a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at 4115 Lake Otis Parkway on Thursday, June 4, 2020, and Eden Pascual, right, holds a sample bag. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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A drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in East Anchorage that was previously scheduled to close on June 12 will remain open indefinitely, officials said Friday. The site has been operating since mid-March.

“It’s one of the most accessible testing sites in the whole municipality. We realized we didn’t want to reduce testing capacity when there continues to be such a demand,” said Audrey Gray, a spokesperson for the Anchorage Emergency Operations Center.

The site provides free testing with a doctor’s referral, and is located near the intersection of Lake Otis Parkway and East 42nd Avenue. It opened in March as a way to prepare for a surge in suspected cases, and was initially the only community-based testing in Anchorage.

In late May, Providence Alaska Medical Center announced it would be closing the site, citing staffing issues and decreased need.

But in the weeks that followed, Anchorage saw an uptick in coronavirus cases — and an increased need for testing in the community.

“The site has proved critically important to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska,” city officials said in a statement Friday. “During the past 12 weeks, this effort provided more than 8,400 COVID-19 tests to the Anchorage community.”

Dr. Harbir Makin, a physician at Providence, said in an interview that he was glad to hear that the drive-thru site would remain open, and that he and other doctors had sent multiple emails to Providence requesting the extension in recent days.

“It’s the only place I can send my patients for testing right now,” he said.

At a community briefing Friday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said, “Increased availability in testing gives us more flexibility when it comes time to design a response to the disease. The more flexibility we have, the fewer restrictions are required on the general public.”

Currently, only those who have a referral from a doctor are able to get tested at the site. But Natasha Pineda, director of Anchorage’s health department, said the city is working with the state and private contractors to expand testing even further.

“We wish that everyone could get tested," she said.

Anchorage Daily News reporter Aubrey Wieber contributed to this story.

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