State and municipal health officials have urged Alaskans to get tested for COVID-19 if they start to show symptoms, but the process of getting tested has proved to be challenging and confusing for some. Anchorage has almost a dozen testing sites, some run by private medical facilities and others organized by state and local government.
“It just depends on what’s going to work best for you as an individual, because we just want people to get tested,” said Audrey Gray, emergency programs manager for the municipality.
Alaska Public Media’s Kavitha George spoke to Gray and other testing organizers to answer some questions about how to access testing.
Q: I have symptoms of COVID-19. Where can I get tested?
Just about any of the facilities on the city’s map of testing sites will provide COVID-19 testing for someone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, but call ahead to find out if there are specific requirements. Many private facilities, like Medical Park Family Care and Arete Family Medicine will require you to be seen either in person or through a telehealth appointment to get a referral to be tested there. Some, like FirstCare Medical Center, will require you to fill out a pre-registration form explaining your symptoms.
The Lake Otis drive-through, the primary publicly-funded testing site in Anchorage, also recommends a pre-registration form. The form doubles as a traveler declaration form, which has caused some confusion for residents trying to get tested, said Gray.
“This is the only mechanism for [registration] at this point. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting the test thing down, which is exactly what we wanted to have happen.”
To navigate the form as a non-traveler, Gray said to check box “3a” to request a test. As for “date of arrival,” Gray said it’s okay to input a random date. The form’s main purpose is to get you in the system so your test results can be emailed to you. If you don’t have internet, or have trouble with the form, someone can help you fill it out at the site.
Many facilities report being busy, and the Lake Otis site has regularly seen hours-long wait times. Arriving early will help your chances of being tested the same day. Their hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
Q: I don’t have symptoms, but I want a test. Can I get tested?
Some private facilities may offer testing for asymptomatic individuals, but you would need to call to explain your situation to a provider. With exceptions for out-of-state travelers, the Lake Otis drive-through does not test people showing no symptoms.
Q: I recently traveled out of state and I need a follow-up test. Where should I go?
Only some of the testing facilities in the municipality accept traveler testing vouchers — the testing site inside Ted Stevens International Airport, the Lake Otis drive-through and the Girdwood Health Clinic.
Q: I have a medical procedure coming up and I need to get a COVID-19 test first. Where should I go?
Providence has three facilities in Anchorage that only test pre-procedure patients — Providence Health Park on Piper St., Providence Laboratory Services on East Tudor Rd., and Providence Medical Group on Huffman Park Drive. All three locations require patients to be asymptomatic and feeling well before a test. The Lake Otis drive-through site does not accept pre-procedure patients.
Medical Park Family Care and Arete Family Medicine will also accept pre-procedure patients. Physician referrals are required for all pre-procedure COVID-19 tests.
Q: How much will a COVID-19 test cost?
COVID-19 tests processed by the state are free. Some private providers charge for tests if they have to be processed by a commercial lab. Private providers may also charge for referral appointments.
Q: How soon can I get test results back?
This varies, depending on the testing site and the type of test. Rapid tests, like the ones Providence uses for pre-procedure patients, are expected to come back in 24-48 hours. Arete Family Medicine and FirstCare Medical Center said results can take up to 72 hours. Gray estimated between four and eight days for tests at the Lake Otis drive-through.
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This story has been updated with new, expanded hours for the drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Lake Otis Parkway.