Officials with the City and Borough of Juneau are pleased with the execution of free asymptomatic testing in town following the holidays.
“I think it’s going great,” said Mila Cosgrove, head of Juneau’s emergency operations center, in a phone interview. “Through last night, we had 836 people go through. 548 tests have returned, with 4 positives. We are waiting on 288 results.”
With four positives, that’s a positivity rate of less than 1%. While those numbers may go up as people come in with more time for the virus to develop, Cosgrove said, it’s a good rate. Out-of-towners are showing a higher rate.
“We’re keeping an eye on things in town. There’s a lot of folks coming back. Our numbers coming back have been higher,” Cosgrove said. “(Monday) they had 279 people. We’ve been running a higher positivity rate at the airport screening center.”
Pete Ostman, branch director with the COVID taskforce in charge of the testing centers, said the first round of asymptomatic testing, held in December, had been less effective.
“The first round of asymptomatic testing didn’t kind of take off, in a sense,” Ostman said. “People in town and nationwide were over the COVID.”
As they were planning the first round of asymptomatic testing, Ostman said, they weren’t sure how many people a day to expect at the Hagevig Fire Training Center.
“We didn’t know the first time we did asymptomatic testing,” Ostman said. “Were we gonna do a thousand a day? Or were we gonna do 2,500 in a day?”
This round, beginning on Dec. 30, 2020 and running until Jan. 10, has had more than 836 people go through the testing center.
“I have to say, we have an amazing testing team,” Cosgrove said. “I have been so impressed with how adaptable the team has been, at the training center and at the airport.”
The format has changed somewhat since the early days of testing, with testers operating out of the training building itself.
“We trashed about three tents, and we finally said enough is enough,” Ostman said. “We eventually got away from self testing. We were getting an increase in inconclusives. We basically went back to staff swabbing.”
Getting results back has also been streamlined, with some people getting their results in as little as a day, Cosgrove said, though 2-3 days is more common. The testing capacity could be rapidly expanded if necessary as well, Ostman said.
“We can handle three times what we’re handling right now if there was a community outbreak,” Ostman said. “I have some of the hardest working individuals in Juneau. They don’t get thanks because they’re emergency workers. Every other day we’re changing the quarantine rules, the isolation rules, the travel rules.”
The next step
Even as Juneau runs more tests, eyes are on the next step in the fightback: vaccinations.
”There’s a lot of people who are very eager to be vaccinated,” Cosgrove said. “We’re continuing to trust the people who spend a lot of time thinking about this.”
CBJ and Bartlett Regional Hospital are planning on hosting a free vaccine clinic for people 65 years old and older on Jan. 15-17, the city announced.
“The clinic is pending vaccine availability. If vaccine availability is confirmed, CBJ will notify the public and issue more details on the clinic and how to make an appointment,” the city said in a news release. “Appointment scheduling may be available as early as this Friday.”
The state is also working on rolling out vaccines. More information, including with how to make appointments through the state, is available at covidvax.alaska.gov. Early roll-out was marked with disappointment from many that they were unable to schedule appointments.
“We’re doing what we can to make it more clear for people,” said Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead of Alaska’s Vaccine Task Force. “The interest was so high and the appointments booked up so quickly.”
The state is doing what it can to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. This includes streamlining the tier system with as few divisions as possible.
“We want vaccines in arms as fast possible. But we also don’t want vaccines to be sitting there with providers unable to administer it,” Zink said. “Alaska seniors, we want you vaccinated. If you did not get get a spot today, there’s a spot coming up.”
Technical difficulties could also be hampering the elderly attempting to register for appointments, Zink said.
“We understand that not every senior is a wizard on their phone,” Zink said. “It’s better on their desktop than their phone. We recommend using that.”
The state and other organizations will be trying to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, but Cosgrove warned against expecting any silver bullets.
“I’ve heard people describe 2021 as the beginning of the end, with the introduction of the vaccine. I think it’s all headed in the right direction, but it’s not going to change overnight,” Cosgrove said. “Wash your hands. Mask up. Keep your social bubble small.”
Want to get tested?
Go to the registration site here at https://juneau.org/covid-19/testing and register for a free test during one of the time blocks available.