COVID-19 testing

Many people are interested in testing for COVID-19 out of concern for themselves and their loved ones. Testing is an important tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Anyone can get tested for COVID-19, including visitors to Alaska and travelers.

On this page:

Where to get tested

The state does not endorse or suggest any particular testing site or company, but the following information is provided to help you quickly locate testing sites near you.

Get tested if you are sick

If you think you may be sick, here's what to do.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Anyone with any symptom of COVID-19 should get tested as soon as possible.

Fever, Cough, Fatique, Lack or loss of appetite, Sputum production, Myalgias
 

Most people with COVID-19 may start out with only one or two symptoms and it may feel like a mild cold. People tend to be the most contagious during the first several days after they get the first symptom and can be contagious before they get any symptoms. Some people don't have any symptoms at all and feel completely well but are still contagious. If you notice even mild symptoms, you should get tested.

Testing for asymptomatic close contacts

DHSS recommends testing for all individuals who have been identified as close contacts to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Unvaccinated asymptomatic people who were in close contact to an infected person should be tested immediately after becoming aware of an exposure. Individuals are encouraged to test again on day 5–7 of quarantine. Asymptomatic vaccinated persons who are identified as close contacts to someone with COVID-19 should be tested 5–7 days after exposure.

Who else can get tested?

You may also need a test for other reasons, such as travel, admission to a health care facility, before having a surgical procedure, or coming into close contact with someone with COVID-19. Testing may also be done at the direction of public health officials for people involved who are not experiencing symptoms but are involved in a particular outbreak or who live in a congregate setting (i.e. long term care facilities, nursing home, correctional facilities). For details, please read the Section of Epidemiology guidance on COVID-19 testing in Alaska (PDF).

What to do after your COVID-19 test

What do I do when results are returned?

If you are positive for COVID-19

  • Isolate according to DHSS guidance and CDC guidelines and let your health care provider know you have COVID-19.
  • Before going to the doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them your symptoms. Testing positive means, you are at risk of spreading the virus to others.
  • Stay home and away from others, even if you do not have symptoms or only mild symptoms. Do not leave your home except to get medical care.
  • Seek medical care immediately if your symptoms get worse or you have difficulty breathing.
  • A public health nurse or another public health official may be in touch with you for an interview about your illness, to provide support and begin to identify close contacts who may have been exposed to, and possibly infected with, the virus. Public health officials also decide when patients can end their isolation based on CDC guidelines.
  • If you or someone you know has recently tested positive for COVID-19 and has not yet spoken to a contact tracer with Public Health, please call 907-531-3329 for education, resources, and a contact tracing interview. For more information, visit the CDC's webpage, If You Are Sick or Caring for Someone.

If you are negative for COVID-19

  • You may still test positive later.
  • If symptoms persist or get worse, talk to your health care provider about whether you should get another test.
  • If you have a fever or other symptoms, stay home and stay away from others except to get medical care.
  • Always wear a face mask and practice social distancing.

At-Home COVID-19 Testing

At-home collection kits and tests are currently available either by prescription or over the counter (OTC). OTC tests do not require a prescription and are available in a pharmacy or retail store. Instructions provided in the test kit box should be followed precisely. Many OTC tests include two tests. If your first test is negative, retest according to the test kit instructions (usually within 1-3 days). If either one of the test results is positive, you are considered positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Two negative test results should be interpreted with caution in symptomatic individuals. Consider getting a more sensitive test, such as a PCR test, especially if you have classic COVID symptoms or if you were a close contact to a confirmed COVID case within the past 14 days.

Share your positive test results with your healthcare provider to learn about possible treatment options or any other appropriate medical follow-up you might need. Currently, people who test positive do not need to report results from OTC tests to the Alaska Division of Public Health. This might change in the future; if so, we will update this guidance accordingly. If you don’t have a medical provider, please call 907-531-3329 for education, resources and a contact tracing interview.

For more information, refer to the At-home COVID-19 tests flyer or At-Home COVID-19 Testing Information (PDF).

There are also several FDA-authorized home-collection PCR COVID tests for people who want to take a test at home and mail it to a company to get results, such as:

What kind of tests are done in Alaska?

There are two basic kinds of COVID-19 testing; viral tests that check for current infection and antibody tests that test for past infection.

  • Viral tests, also called PCR swab tests, antigen tests or molecular tests, are used in Alaska to check for current infection. Some machines (i.e. Abbott ID Now, Cepheid) process viral tests rapidly while other samples are collected and sent to the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories, commercial lab or other health care facilities for processing. Turnaround times for results vary, from less than an hour for rapid tests to several days for results sent to laboratories.
  • Antibody tests are not widely used in Alaska at this time. The tests have not been clinically verified to diagnose or exclude COVID-19. The antibody response in infected patients remains largely unknown and the clinical value of antibody testing has not been demonstrated. False positives can occur and further research is needed to understand how this test might be used to understand disease prevalence in the community. People can take weeks to make antibodies against the virus. We do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again, or how long that protection might last. At this time, antibody tests are not widely available in Alaska.

How are tests analyzed?

The Alaska State Public Health Laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks use real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to accurately identify the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 viral genetic material (ribonucleic acid, or RNA) in clinical specimens collected from the respiratory tract of patients. The upper respiratory specimens most often tested by our laboratories are nasopharyngeal swabs, nasal swabs, and oropharyngeal swabs. Real-time RT-PCR remains the gold standard for detecting SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, not just in the United States, because of its superior sensitivity and specificity when compared to other known diagnostic tests for this infection. The Alaska State Public Health Laboratories in conjunction with other high-throughput testing laboratories in the state have also adopted transcription mediated amplification (TMA) assays which are shown to be accurate in detecting SARS-CoV-2 RNA and offer advantages in terms of turnaround time due to the increased availability of fully automated testing platforms.

How common are false positives and false negatives?

The PCR test for COVID-19 works by detecting genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 cannot be confused with the genetic material from other viruses, so the COVID-19 diagnostic test is highly specific. This means it almost never gives a false positive. If you are tested for COVID-19, and the test comes back positive, you can be very sure that you are infected with this virus. False negative results can occur. If a specimen collection is not done properly, or if you are in an early stage of infection or already partially recovered, your swab sample might not contain enough viral material to come back positive. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, it is safest to assume you are infected and act accordingly, even if your diagnostic test comes back negative. During the winter months, SARS-CoV-2 can co-circulate with other respiratory pathogens like influenza and RSV. If you are symptomatic and test negative, consider social distancing to help reduce spread of these other pathogens.

For more information