COVID testing at Alaska airports to end after Jan. 31

A traveler off of a flight from Seattle makes his way through a COVID-19 screening line at Juneau International Airport on June 26, 2020. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The state is not renewing its contracts for COVID-19 testing at airports in Alaska. According to the Department of Health and Social Services, the last day for tests provided under these contracts will be Jan. 31.

The service is currently available at airports across the state. Earlier on in the pandemic, the state mandated testing for people coming to Alaska from out of state. At the end of April, testing became optional.

Since June  2020, the health department estimates that airport tests have detected more than 6,000 people with COVID-19.

A spokesperson said key department officials were out of the office and not immediately available for follow-up questions about why the contracts won’t be renewed.

Other comparable testing options are still available in communities, as well as home test kits, though those aren’t as sensitive as lab tests. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, for example, started giving away home test kits to travelers on Nov. 30. Unrelated to air travel, Juneau has given away more than 14,000 home test kits.

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the federal government plans to buy 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits and mail them to people who want them beginning in January.

The state health department said it does intend to continue offering free COVID-19 vaccines at airports through contractors. Through Tuesday, the department estimates 9,761 people have gotten vaccinated at Alaska airports.

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Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.