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Fairbanks Has Highest Rate of COVID-19 Testing

Foundation Health Partners

Social distancing and self-isolation have flattened the COVID-19 curve for Fairbanks and Interior Alaska. More tests for the disease are available from the Unified Incident Command, it was announced Monday.

“Currently Fairbanks has done the highest number of tests, per capita, in Alaska.”

That’s Dr. Michelle Nace, of Fairbanks Health Partners. She was talking about the 1,800 tests for COVID-19 done at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, and Tanana Valley Clinic and another 424 done at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center.

Until last week, there was a shortage of test kits, so medical staffers prioritized tests for those who are high risk, for example, a hospitalized patient, a symptomatic patient with other health conditions, or a health care worker. Now, Nace says, there are 800 test kits available in Fairbanks.

“Now, more recently, we’ve been broadening our testing as our testing capacity has increased. And so now, we are targeting those even with mild symptoms.”

Clint Brooks, the hospital’s chief operations officer says results are available sooner.

“I’m also happy to report that our testing turn-around times have significantly reduced, and our rate of positive results seem to be decreasing.

Nace says the goal is the same as ever – to identify pockets of COVID-19 and contain them.

People even with mild symptoms we are encouraging to call the COVID-19 hotline, at 907-458-2888, to get drive-through testing so we can identify where these positives may be.

“People even with mild symptoms we are encouraging to call the COVID hotline, at 907-458-2888, to get drive-through testing so we can identify where these positives may be.”

Unit leaders in the Interior Unified Incident Command, (that’s the combined agencies charged with addressing the pandemic) say this flattening, or pushing back, of the COVID-19 curve is happening because the community is observing the stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines.

Nace says it has bought time.

”It has allowed us to increase our testing capabilities with things like drive-through testing and improved turnaround time, it’s bought us time to secure more protective equipment for medical staff. We’ve had more time to figure alternate sites to care for patients, both in the hospital and outside the hospital.”

Tanana Chiefs Conference is also upping the number of tests, since in the last two weeks, three patients and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers have not changed, says Dr. Alisa Alexander of Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center.

“We have been really aggressive about our testing, including testing people who have come into contact with these (positively-tested) people who are not symptomatic, just so we can work on identifying those pockets.”

Last week, TCC received three rapid-test machines through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

And although the machines are analyzing samples from TCC clients from the 42 member villages in Interior Alaska, the machines themselves have stayed in Fairbanks.

This week, TCC hopes to get two more analyzers and plans to deploy them at the clinics in Tok and Tanana.