Drive-thru COVID-19 testing underway in Anchorage

Trish Siza, a resident with Providence Alaska Medical Center, was the first healthcare provider to greet people in Anchorage seeking drive-thru COVID-19 testing Tuesday. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Drive-thru testing for COVID-19 has begun in Anchorage for people with a doctor’s referral.

A steady stream of vehicles arrived at the testing site throughout the day Tuesday at the corner of Lake Otis Parkway and East 42nd Avenue, some carrying drivers or passengers with their mouths covered by masks.

Lisa Robinette, administrative director at Providence Alaska Medical Center’s lab, said the flow of patients picked up throughout the day.

“So I think we have seen quite an increase in the visitation here, and the collection of the specimens, and I suspect we will see that increase as the word gets out to the community that we’re available,” Robinette said.

There were 30 to 40 people who came through for testing in the morning and early afternoon on Tuesday, Robinette said.

As of about 4 p.m., there was a small line of cars visible, with more arriving.

A healthcare provider wearing a clear, plastic face shield, a mask, a blue plastic gown and purple latex gloves asked the patients some initial questions — including information about their doctor’s referral — and provided them with a pamphlet about COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Then, the patients proceeded to a second stop where a small team wearing the same protective gear took their paperwork and administered the test: a nasal swab that was put into a clear plastic vial, placed in some additional packaging and stored in a refrigerator in a nearby building marked “biohazard.”

Health officials say the samples will be sent to a lab, and that patients will be notified as soon as results are available.

There have been discussions about how to increase the lone testing site’s capacity if there is an increase in patients, Robinette said.

“We’re definitely developing a surge plan that may have two lanes of collection, but again we’ll have to see how that works and if that is actually needed,” Robinette said. “The team out here has been able to process things pretty quick, but as you can look out the window and see, that the cars are beginning to form a little bit of a line.”

Robinette says the patients seemed grateful for the free drive-thru testing service, which is now available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Health officials say patients without a doctor’s referral will not be tested and that such referrals can be obtained by consulting a doctor in-person, by phone or in a virtual appointment.

The program is a collaboration between Providence, Alaska Native Medical Center, Alaska Regional Hospital and Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

Related: Read more coronavirus coverage from Alaska Public Media.