Firefighters, Oil Workers, Fish Workers Get Tested at Airports

May 21, 2020

COVID-19 testing tent outside Fairbanks Memorial Hospital
Credit Foundation Health Partners

Firefighters and fisheries workers flying into Alaska will now get COVID-19 testing at the international airport in Fairbanks and Anchorage. A testing tent has been set up to get workers tested before traveling on to remote locations or into the field.

The testing tent has actually been at the Fairbanks Airport for a while, to service North Slope oilfield workers. It is run by Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services.

“The latest aspect of what we’re doing in the Fairbanks Airport is that we’ve expanded it on behalf of the state, which has contracted us to test their firefighters that come in to help with the seasonal fires, that we incur in Alaska, as we all know, as well as certain critical industry personnel.”

Mark Highland, of Beacon, says the company has long expertise with remote health clinics and employer drug tests in Alaska, and was contracted on an emergency basis to expand to the COVID-19 testing.

Another contractor, Capstone Clinic, in Southcentral Alaska, will run the testing site in the Anchorage airport.

Workers who are tested at the airports will remain in quarantine in either Anchorage or Fairbanks until test results are returned.

“We collect the test, we sent it to the state lab, the state lab turns it around in 24 hours. SO during that time, the individuals have to be self-isolating or in quarantine somewhere.”

Tim Mowry, with the Alaska Division of Forestry says firefighters coming up will likely stay at the University of Alaska Fairbanks while waiting for test results. But if there is a big fire season like last year, crews may go out to a fire before lab results get back.

“If it’s an emergency, and we’ve got a fire bearing down on a community, as first responders, we can put those people out in the field, and then if there was a positive test, we would, you know, isolate that person or crew, and then do the tracing, and go through that whole procedure.”

Mowry says crews coming up from the lower-48 typically work a 14-day assignment if they come to Alaska. Already the Division of Forestry has tracked 86 fires this year, and we are coming up to the typically busy Memorial Day weekend, but no calls for out-of-state crews are needed as yet.