How Alaska set up a gold standard COVID testing operation

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Credit: Wall Street Journal

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.

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Related article:  Viewpoint: Coronavirus testing, treatment key to ending national lockdowns

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.

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