Rapid COVID-19 Testing in Norton Sound Region Is Limited, Other Testing Options Still Available

Man is receiving Covid test through the window from a person masked and wearing gloves.

Norton Sound Health Corporation is trying to restore widespread rapid COVID-19 testing for the region; meanwhile, Norton Sound residents will likely be looking at longer quarantine times while their test results are pending. 

Take for example, Jackie Reader of Nome who went to a small family event in Seward in late July. She expected to follow Nome’s emergency ordinance by doing a seven-day quarantine pending her negative COVID-19 test results. 

“The first one I got on August 3rd and I got the results that night after returning home from the flight. Then I went and got another one after the seven days on the 10th and just finally got my results today [August 18th]. I’m completely out of leave [at my job]. I’ve gone a whole week with leave without pay.”

– Jackie Reader

All of Reader’s test results came back negative. But she says if she had known she would be doing two-weeks of quarantine anyway, she would not have traveled at all.   

On August 10th, Norton Sound Health Corporation announced that they would be limiting rapid testing.

NSHC’s spokesperson Reba Lean said that the re-agent, or the solution used to determine if the virus is present on a nasal swab, is currently in short supply nationwide.  Those rapid tests were able to be processed at NSHC with results coming back in less than 24 hours.

While NSHC knows that’s hard for travelers like Reader, Lean says NSHC has to conserve its rapid tests. 

“We’re prioritizing patients who are experiencing symptoms because we need to identify whether they have COVID right now. We are also trying to accommodate rapid testing for patients who are being admitted or patients who need procedures done.”

– Reba Lean

Most test kits are now being sent to the state lab or the lab at ANTHC (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium) for processing, which takes more time than the 24 hour rapid test. Lean says that anyone who wants to, can still get tested for COVID-19 at the walk-in tent in Nome or at their local village clinic.

“NSHC recommends people get tested at least once a month, one per household. That’s still a great idea.”

– Reba Lean

While testing is still available at the Alaska Airlines terminal in Nome, travelers are not immediately being offered rapid tests.

As cases continue to appear in village communities, Lean says Norton Sound Health Corporation and local leadership will work to figure out the best options for testing. But she does say that NSHC is continuing to get rapid test analyzers into all of the village communities in the Norton Sound region so that they can perform rapid testing locally once supplies are replenished. 

“We would like to have one in every community by the end of the year, if not sooner. We have some training to do with the providers in the community, so health aides are the ones who are running those tests and that’s on top of their normal duties. So there’s some challenges but we would love to provide rapid testing for each and every community in the region.”

– Reba Lean

There are already analyzers in Unalakleet, St. Michael, Shishmaref, Shaktoolik, Gambell and Teller. 

NSHC does not have a timeline for when widespread rapid testing will be available again for the region. 

Image at top: A health aide distributes a rapid COVID-19 test to a patient in Nome, Alaska. Photo: JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).