Rapid test kits to ramp up COVID-19 testing in Kodiak and the villages

Kodiak received its first shipment of COVID-19 rapid test kits on Wednesday evening. The kits, which can be processed on island, are expected to accelerate the turnaround time on results from days to minutes. Previously, tests had to be shipped to a lab on the mainland for evaluation.

Elise Pletnikoff is a physician at Kodiak Area Native Association.

“We have the capacity to test a lot more people now and to do rapid testing,” she said. “With rapid testing the turnaround being five to 15 minutes with very accurate tests means that we can accurately monitor the population and find people that have COVID quickly and help them to isolate from family members.”

Kodiak now has two testing machines, located at the main KANA building and Mill Bay Health Center. There are about 100 rapid test kits available, said Pletnikoff. To put that into context, Kodiak has only tested around 70 people total so far, and about 7,000 people have been tested in the state of Alaska. As of Friday, there are still no cases of COVID-19 in Kodiak, according to the Emergency Services Council.

The two testing machines were obtained through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Pletnikoff said KANA expects to receive more testing units and more tests going forward on a weekly basis. In the meantime, she said, they’ll be able to test people a lot more liberally.

“Previously, we were only testing people were really worried that if they had it, they would get really sick or they would get a family member really sick, [if] they had an elderly family member or a newborn or something like that in the household. And now we’re being we’re talking anyone that has symptoms that we think may have COVID.”

Pletnikoff people with respiratory symptoms should call their doctor to see if they need to be tested. Symptoms to watch out for include shortness of breath, fever, a new runny nose, or new diarrhea in the last few days with a runny nose or cough.

Village health aides have also been working to make sure that remote Kodiak residents have access to test kits too. Pletnikoff says the aides have trained patients to swab themselves and mail their samples into town.

“We’re actually collecting samples from all of the villages today [Friday],” she said. “Several villages have patients with mild symptoms that we want to be very aggressive with identifying any potential COVID cases in the villages and making sure it doesn’t spread in those communities.”

Pletnikoff says, ideally, they’d like to be able to test everyone in Kodiak, but unfortunately, resources across the state are limited. In the event that rapid test kits run out before the next shipment, she says they’ll still be able to turn to the slower method of mailing samples to a lab in Anchorage.

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