Drive-thru testing

A drive-thru COVID-19 testing station has been set up outside Chief Andrew Isaac Medical Center in Fairbanks. Faith Walsh shows what the testing equipment looks like. Tests are by appointment only. Gary Black/News-Miner

A free COVID-19 testing site is coming to the Carlson Center next week after other free testing locations in the area previously closed.

“I’m thrilled. We’ve never been in a partnership like this with public health or the state,” said Mark Bohrer, the District 7 pharmacy coordinator for Fred Meyer.

The partnership between Fred Meyer, the Department of Health and Social Services, Public Health Nursing, Volunteers in Policing and the Fairbanks North Star Borough officially opens June 30. Bohrer was driving up from Southcentral to help with the opening when he spoke to the News-Miner on Thursday. 

Bohrer said he doesn’t know if there’s been a venture like this before, but he’s thrilled to combine resources and learn from other agencies.

Bohrer spearheaded similar efforts in the Southcentral region, where the first drive-thru of this type opened in Eagle River in May. He looked at various models used for testing sites in other states set up by Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer, before the Eagle River drive-thru and the site coming to Fairbanks.

He said he’s motivated by being a pharmacist, a job that is often on the treatment side of things. Being able to identify positive COVID-19 tests is “tremendous” and allows pharmacists to be part of the solution, he said. Bohrer said he hopes it takes some of the burden off the health care system too.

“If we can identify positives, then how many cases can we prevent?” he said.

They want to do everything they can to identify, isolate and trace people to slow the spread of the virus, Bohrer said, adding, they want to “get in front of the virus rather than running behind it.”

It took multiple organizations to make the drive-thru site a reality in Fairbanks, though.

“We didn’t quite know how a partnership would work with public health,” Bohrer said.

At first he thought they couldn’t pull it off alone. Bohrer noted they need about 10 people to run the drive thru. However, connecting with Elizabeth Burton, regional nurse manager for the Frontier Region helped. Burton oversees the Fairbanks Public Health Center and other public health centers in the Interior.

“Well, when Elizabeth and I started talking, they were willing to meet us more than halfway with the staff,” Bohrer said. 

Burton said the reason she started pursuing the free drive-thru testing in April is that she heard that the free testing site in Fairbanks might be dismantled and set up again with people having to pay for the test or have insurance, so she was worried about access issues. Burton said she foresees the site running until the supplies run out, which she estimates may happen around August.

“I would like to use every testing kit that we have,” she said.

Burton, a member of the Interior Alaska Unified Incident Command team, requested the use of the Carlson Center from Borough Mayor Bryce Ward.

“It’s a central part of town. Everybody knows where it’s at and the inside of the Carlson Center isn’t being used right now,” she said, noting that the center is currently being utilized as a potential overflow site for the hospital.

Ward granted the request, and the borough worked with public health in securing the parking lot for drive-thru testing.

If people are experiencing symptoms of the virus and think they may need a test, they can call the Fairbanks Public Health Center at 452-1776 to set up an appointment at the new site. People can call the Fairbanks Public Health Center between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to talk with staff and undergo a short questionnaire.

COVID-19 symptoms are wide-ranging now as well and Burton noted some symptoms.

“A person can have a runny nose; they can have a headache; they can have fatigue; they can have diarrhea; they can have respiratory symptoms, a cough; they can have a fever,” Burton said.

Even if people have a mild symptom, she added, the center will get them set up with an appointment. 

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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