As Alaska's confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose into the 30s over the weekend, Fairbanks' Foundation Health Partners has launched two "drive-thru" testing stations for the disease.
The first is a true drive-thru situation located at Ninth Avenue and Noble Street in downtown Fairbanks at which patients who are showing symptoms and who have been referred by a health care professional can receive a test without leaving their vehicles, according to Dr. Mishelle Nace, a pediatrician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital who spoke to reporters Monday.
“The advantage of this is it saves our emergency rooms and our clinics from the turnover of patients and cleaning the rooms to help make an advantage for our community," Nace said.
Once a test is administered, it is logged, along with the patient's information, Nace said. After the results have come back, the patient is contacted, regardless of whether the results show a positive or a negative test.
"Whether they are a positive or a negative, when they leave the facility, they are given the same instructions: to go home, to stay home until their symptoms are gone and then for an additional 72 hours after that," Nace said.
The downtown station is reserved for a specific demographic at the moment, said Dr. Mark Simon, an emergency physician with the hospital.
“It is at this time, not a high-volume, everyone show up process. At this time we’re asking our highest-risk population to access that test center," he said. "The testing that is currently recommended is only if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. So asymptomatic people who might be diabetic or have heart disease; there’s no testing currently that we’re doing for people who don’t have symptoms.”
That population of symptomatic individuals to be tested includes the following:
• Immunocompromised individuals
• Individuals over the age of 60
• Those who are pregnant
• Critical health workers or community workers
• Nursing home workers
• Those with diabetes or chronic kidney, heart and/or lung diseases
There is also a remote testing station outside of the emergency center at the hospital. This is not a drive-thru station by definition, Simon added, noting that a tent has been set up outside for patients to walk through if they wish to be tested outside of a health care facility with other patients.
"So it’s a similar model where you have less exposure to both the patient getting tested, staff and the rest of the facility," Simon said.
Nace noted the importance of protecting the most medically vulnerable individuals amid an increase in cases.
“The number of positive tests you see today are the people who got sick a week or two ago. This underestimates the amount of disease in our community," she said. “This virus spreads before you even know it. You may think it’s just a cough or a cold; for many of us it may not feel like more than just the flu. The real problem is not the 80% of you who may get better in just a week or two, it’s the 20%. The older, the vulnerable, the immune compromised or those that are going to need more support.
"We can’t take care of everyone at once," she said. "All we have to minimize the spread of this virus is distance, keeping people apart.”
Simon emphasized that the testing stations and the approach to testing may change over time.
“With everything that we’ve announced today, things have the potential to change quickly from day to day as the situation changes," he said.
More information about the drive-thru testing stations can be found by calling the hospital's COVID-19 hotline at 907-458-2888.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.