As the coronavirus pandemic surged across the U.S. this spring, Alaska faced a raft of unique obstacles. Despite the hurdles, Alaska was able to carry out what proved to be a robust testing program.
Alaska stands out as an example of a state that, in the absence of a centralized testing operation by the federal government, managed to cobble together a program that helped state and tribal officials track the outbreak. Spurred by its tragic experience [with the Spanish flu] a century ago, Alaska scrambled to stand up its testing platform even before there were signs the virus was spreading in the state.
Early on, as the pandemic began spreading across the country, it had purchased testing kits from an out-of-state lab that had gone unused. The kits were deployed to the main airport in Anchorage. The Alaska Native Medical Center, one of the state’s largest hospitals, installed a high-throughput testing machine. The state also deployed more rapid-test supplies to rural communities and contracted with an out-of-state lab to process airport tests.
The steps helped Alaska avoid the sweeping breakdown in testing that plagued a number of other states in late June and July, Mr. Cutchins says. By having a more diverse testing regime—a combination of state and tribal labs, rapid tests and out-of-state capacity, Alaska was less vulnerable to supply-chain issues or mechanical failures, he says.