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Infectious Disease
COVID-19

COVID-19 testing

Testing for asymptomatic people

You may have seen the CDC guidance stating that if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive with COVID-19 and you’re not experiencing symptoms yourself, that you don’t necessarily need to be tested. Alaska’s current testing guidance won’t change and DHSS continues to recommend testing for all individuals who have been identified as close contacts to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

"We still recommend that asymptomatic people who were in close contact to an infected person get tested during their quarantine period. For people who were put into quarantine promptly after their exposure, we recommend testing during the second week of their 14-day quarantine period.  However, for people who were exposed a week or more before they were put into quarantine, it would be appropriate to get tested right away,” says DHSS Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. “The main problem we want to avoid is asymptomatic people getting tested too early after their exposure to decrease the likelihood of a false-negative test for those who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Testing asymptomatic people during their quarantine period helps to identify those who are infected with the virus, their need to be in isolation, and the need to notify and quarantine their close contacts.

It is also important that people remain in quarantine for the full 14 days even if they test negative at some point during the quarantine period. A negative test does not shorten quarantine but helps determine who else may have been exposed to the virus.

Lastly, anyone who does develop symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested as soon as possible.


What to do when you are sick

Many people are interested in testing for COVID-19 out of concern for themselves and their loved ones. If you think you may be sick, here’s what to do.

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.

 

 Testing locations search from akcovid.info

 


Testing locations map

 

 Find testing locations in Alaska

 

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

Need testing? Call before you go.

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, isolate yourself from others and call a health care provider, clinic or your local Public Health Center to ask about testing. Please do not go to a doctor’s office or clinic in person without prior arrangements. It is better to talk with your provider over the phone first because you might be contagious. If you have any symptoms, you should not leave the house except to get testing or if your provider thinks you need emergency help. Your provider can help you decide if you need testing and help you find where to get tested. Public health nurses can also issue a referral for testing and help Alaskans find a way to get tested.

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.

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.

I got tested. What’s next?

What do I do when results are returned?

  • If you are positive for COVID-19, your health care provider will contact you. Stayhome unless you need emergency medical care.
  • 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.

What if the result is positive?

You will need to remain isolated. 

A public health nurse or another public health official will be in touch with you  for an interview about your illness to provide support and also 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.

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.

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 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.

For more questions and answers about testing

Please read the COVID-19 main FAQ. You can search for questions about testing.