COVID-19 testing: ANTHC’s investment in our community health
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic response, ANTHC staff recognized the need to take action to slow this virus from spreading in our communities. To achieve this, we knew we must detect infections early. By mid-March staff were preparing to test and ensure that our people had access to testing across the state.
ANTHC constructed a drive-thru and walk-up testing site by early April, invested in additional laboratory diagnostic equipment, and helped secure rapid testing equipment for our regional Tribal health partners. All patients, ANTHC staff and family members, important community partner organizations and their staff were eligible for COVID-19 testing regardless of symptoms.
From mid-March through September, the ANMC Laboratory processed and diagnosed more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests. Based on the actions of other countries and communities, ANTHC advocated to expand testing for all Tribal members. Getting tested for COVID-19 is the most effective way to inform personal action and help public health professionals understand the best actions for a community.
COVID-19 testing in rural communities
Testing for COVID-19 isn’t just important for Alaska’s urban centers. It is also important for rural communities, where local health care resources are limited. The consortium, as a statewide Tribal health advocate, helped secure 70 rapid testing machines and thousands of test kits for use in rural communities by mid-April, just one month into the pandemic response.
These machines allowed health care providers in Tribal health clinics to receive test results on the same day a person is tested. ANTHC continues to supply testing kits to our regional partners.
If a person has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, getting tested helps protect family, friends and community. If a person knows they have COVID-19 and they properly self-isolate, they are doing a good thing for their community by not spreading the virus to anyone else. This is crucial to protect our communities — especially our Elders, who are more vulnerable to serious complications if they contract this virus.
Alaska Native people and communities are strong and resilient. We take care of one another. We protect and respect our Elders. We are community minded, never just looking out for ourselves, but our community as a whole. It’s our way of life to take care of one another. ANTHC was proud to support these healthy traditions with testing supplies for COVID-19.
COVID-19 testing at ANTHC: Leading the way for Alaska’s testing capability
As with rapid testing in rural communities and ample testing at our Anchorage location, ANTHC led Alaska in securing antibody testing devices and test kits to serve the ATHS. Antibody testing, which detects previous COVID-19 infection, helps ANTHC epidemiologists understand how many people have been exposed to COVID-19.
With its available testing capacity in 2020, ANTHC was also able to expand testing to community nonprofits where people might live in closer environments, serving members of vulnerable populations such as Elders or those with chronic health conditions. ANTHC testing collection staff set up mobile testing locations around Anchorage for other organizations and businesses.
COVID-19 testing at ANTHC: The team behind the scenes and masks
We are all in this together,and at the forefront of this movement was ANTHC staff who quickly learning new roles to create a testing specimen collection site from scratch and new skills on newly acquired laboratory equipment.ANTHC created a new specialty service by standing up the drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing collection site.
ANTHC purchased new equipment for the ANMC Laboratory that would allow staff to process thousands of COVID-19 tests each day.
- In early June, the ANMC lab was processing over 900 tests a day on average. On June 11, the ANMC lab processed a record 1,205 COVID-19 tests in one day.
- Hundreds of vehicles and walk-up patients flow daily through the ANMC Testing Site.
- A team of ANTHC employees formed a call center to personally deliver COVID-19 testing results, contacting between 500-1,300 people per day at its peak.