Anchorage

New test site, lingering storm impacts reflect Anchorage’s fluctuating virus testing situation

Tuesday brought another series of adjustments for those in Anchorage seeking a COVID-19 test as lingering storm impacts paused the city’s at-home test distribution and continued to contribute to some delays.

On the flip side, residents now have another drive-up testing location available in Midtown.

The Municipality of Anchorage’s planned distribution of at-home COVID-19 test kits at the Spenard and Fairview recreation centers Tuesday was canceled “because of weather conditions in the Valley,” according to the city’s testing locations website.

A spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said the kits — which come from the state — are stored in Mat-Su, where a severe windstorm has caused widespread damage, left thousands of homes and businesses without power and created hazardous travel conditions.

At-home test kits are expected to be available again at the two community distribution locations in Anchorage on Wednesday. The kits are in high demand as many residents return from holiday travels and social media reports of long lines at on-site testing locations are encouraging some to seek the convenience of rapid tests.

Health officials have embraced at-home testing kits as part of a shift in Alaska’s COVID-19 strategy, but the kits aren’t always cheap or easy to find, especially at retail outlets. While the home kits are convenient and provide faster results than PCR tests, they also make it harder to track cases because positive results aren’t reflected in state data.

On top of the disruption to at-home test distribution, severe weather in the Valley contributed to the unannounced closure Monday of multiple Anchorage test sites operated by Capstone Clinic, which is based in Wasilla. Those testing locations reopened Tuesday, but a Capstone official said some may still experience delays in test result turnaround times or long waits for in-person testing.

Dennis Spencer, the CEO of Capstone, said he had encouraged employees to stay home Monday due to the serious weather impacts. Several Capstone workers live in the Valley, and with much of the company’s workforce out for the day, they had to close testing operations.

“I made that call and wanted people to shelter in place, take care of their home or their families,” Spencer said Tuesday.

Several Anchorage residents expressed their frustration over long wait times and testing site closures that arrived without physical or online notices Monday. But as of Tuesday morning, the company’s COVID-19 test sites in Anchorage were back up and running and about 90% of their staff was back, Spencer said.

The severe weather left the company’s testing lab without power, which could add 12 hours to test turnaround times, he said. The outage didn’t result in the loss of specimens, according to Spencer.

He advised that people seeking tests this week and possibly early next week at Capstone testing locations expect to wait in line for one to two hours.

Meanwhile, a new privately run drive-up testing site has opened at 701 E. Tudor Road, potentially relieving some of the burden on other on-site testing locations. Beacon Occupational Health & Safety Services is offering PCR testing at the new site, on the north side of the Tudor Park building, with a 24-hour turnaround time.

The site, which is focused on testing those who are symptomatic or were recently exposed to the virus, will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. There is no cost to get a test, Beacon CEO Amanda Johnson said.

Beacon is partnering with Anchorage-based lab Beechtree Laboratories, which will process results and bill insurance, according to Johnson.

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