Kodiak physicians hoping to get rapid COVID-19 testing kits as early as next week

Alaska’s coronavirus count is at 226 as of Wednesday. The first case spread into rural Alaska, in Bethel, earlier this week. Kodiak has still not yet seen it’s first confirmed case, but the community’s doctors are spending this time to prepare to test and treat Kodiak residents if it does come.

“Every day allows us to be one step further on when we get our first case,” said Dr. Steve Smith, chief of staff at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

His counterpart at Kodiak Area Native Association, Dr. Elise Pletnikoff, says it’s likely that Kodiak will see cases in the future, but they continue to urge the community to follow social distancing guidelines to keep the numbers of COVID-19 patients as low as possible.

“We’ve had very low testing rates due to a low number of testing kits available to us in outpatient facilities,” said Pletnikoff, adding that they’re hoping to get more kits soon. “And I think with higher testing rates, there’s a good chance that we’ll see some positive results. I think there’s a good chance that COVID will come to Kodiak, but with our good social distancing, hopefully we’ll be able to eliminate or minimize spread in our community.”

Pletnikoff anticipates that Kodiak will start getting access to rapid testing kits as early as next week. Rapid COVID-19 tests — basically, swabs that collect samples from inside your nose — can be performed on island, but they still have to be sent to labs on the mainland to get results. It’s unknown how many tests Kodiak will have access to, but Pletnikoff estimates about 50 tests to start.

Smith says that while they would like to test everyone, they will only have the resources to test people who are symptomatic, so they can decide how best to treat them. Symptom criteria have expanded since the pandemic started to ramp up last month, from fever, cough and respiratory issues, says Pletnikoff.

“Acute or sort of a sudden change in taste or smell is one of our screening criteria. It is a minority of patients, but it certainly is an indicator of potential COVID disease, as is new diarrhea.”

While the pandemic continues to spread, Kodiak’s doctors say it’s essential that residents practice the state prevention guidelines. Stay at home as much as possible, maintain at least a six foot distance from others when in public, and wear a mask while out.

“The state has recommended that anybody who basically goes out in public should have a mask, even if it’s a cloth mask,” said Smith. “It keeps your secretions from going out in a huge cloud to other people. Does it protect you as in a cloth mass from somebody who’s symptomatic? It’s not the greatest defense, but it’s the first line of defense.”

Pletnikoff and Smith, along with public health nurse Elsa DeHart were guests on Wednesday’s edition of The Lowdown. We’ll be hosting a weekly check-in with Kodiak’s medical professionals on The Lowdown going forward, so feel free to submit your questions at lowdown@kmxt.org or call (907) 486-3181. Thursday’s guests will be members of Kodiak’s mental health professionals community.

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