Kodiak’s hospital and medical clinics have ramped up testing for COVID-19 in the last week, after the first rapid-testing machines arrived on island last Wednesday. About 100 test kits came along with the first set of machines, and since then they’ve scaled up, according to Dr. Curtis Mortenson at Kodiak Community Health Center.
“A week ago, we had no ability to rapidly test people for COVID-19,” he said. “Over the past week, both KANA and KCHC and the hospital have all received machines to be able to test test rapidly for the disease. And the amount of testing available to us is significantly increased. There’s 500 tests on island right now. And that’s likely to continue growing.”
The new test kits, manufactured by biotechnology company called Abbott, are able to be processed within 15 minutes, a big upgrade from having to ship test samples to the mainland and wait a few days for getting a lab result back.
Dr. Evan Jones said the new kits have allowed medical providers to be a lot more liberal with who they test. Two weeks ago, he says, people who recently traveled and had a cough or mild symptoms were being told to hunker down and quarantine at home.
“Now we’re saying, Well come on in, we’ll test you. Because the best way to contain this is to figure out where it is,” Jones said.
Jones said they’ve also reached the point where anyone in the villages who wants to be tested can be tested, and have their samples flown into town.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Kodiak on Wednesday. With the summer fishing season on the horizon, Jones says it’s going to be a challenge to maintain the testing capacity and keep cases at near zero.
“There’s a good chance it’s going to come in with the summer season as a lot of fishermen come in, and a lot of cannery workers come in. They are “essential workers,” so they will be coming. How do we approach this and even then, with the amount of people coming, do we have enough testing capacity to test every single person who steps off the plane? It’s… that’s a tough one.”
Anyone arriving on island from out of state is still required to quarantine for 14 days. For all other residents, Jones and Mortenson urge people to stay away from others as much as possible, wash hands frequently and wear a mask in public.