Drive-through virus testing arrives in Bethel on Wednesday, March 25. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is setting up COVID-19 testing in the parking lot next to the old hospital from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. People will still have to have an appointment in order to be tested
According to Dr. Elizabeth Bates, YKHC’s Infection Control Officer, “How that works is we take a call through our hotline, our nurse triage line, and do an over the phone assessment based on people’s age, exposure, travel history etc. Then people who meet criteria for testing, we will be organizing testing from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. [on March 25] to basically to expedite increased access to testing, particularly for vulnerable populations.”
Bates says that the plan is to provide drive-through testing for the coronavirus three times a week. Gathering samples for testing is more efficient because the outdoor environment is safer. Bates says that getting samples inside the hospital requires a special room with negative pressure to keep potentially contaminated air from escaping into the rest of the hospital. It also requires a “deep clean,” with staff wearing protective equipment.
“When it’s done in open air,” explained Bates, “the open air is this natural kind of negative pressure environment because it’s so large, so it’s much safer.”
YKHC has also expanded its capacity to gather test samples in villages. Bates says that they have already gotten some test samples back from sub-regional clinics, or SRCs, located on the Yukon River.
“We have gotten COVID-19 samples from SRCs in Emmonak and St. Mary’s. We’re sending viral media to Akiachak, Chefornak, Kasigluk, Kotlik, and Pilot Station in order to increase access to testing in the villages, which we know is so important,” said Bates.
Getting the results back takes about a week, but the minute YKHC gets a positive COVID-19 result from any of the tests, Bates says that the plan is to let the public know immediately.
“We’ll continue to monitor. So far nothing has come back positive, obviously. If something does come back positive, we will be sure to alert the community immediately. And we have a plan in place with the state of Alaska epidemiology, and our own public health support here to address that issue as it presents itself.”
The Bethel hospital is also working hard to get the capacity to process tests on-site, in order to reduce the time it takes to get results back.