For more than two months, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration required people traveling to Alaska from out of state to quarantine for two weeks once they got here. But, that changed Saturday, June 6.
The state is now allowing travelers to get tested for COVID-19, instead of quarantining.
It’s a complicated new policy, and some local governments have also imposed their own rules for travelers, including the Municipality of Anchorage.
Here is some of what we know so far about all of the new guidelines:
What are the alternatives to quarantining?
Let’s start with the options for testing ahead of time, according to the state:
• You can get a molecular-based test, such as a PCR test, within 72 hours of your departure, and bring proof of the negative result with you. (Yes, that 72-hour clock starts when you get tested, not when you get the result back, confirmed Heidi Hedberg, the state’s director of public health.) In a FAQ document, the state bills it as the “fastest and safest way to ensure your ability to explore Alaska right away.” The state says you need to “minimize your interactions” until you get a negative result from a second test to be taken 7 to 14 days after your arrival.
• If you need just a little more time, the state is accepting results from tests taken up to five days before departure. But, if it’s more than 72 hours, you’ll still have to take a second test when you get to the airport and minimize your interactions until that result comes back. Also, the state says, you should continue to minimize your interactions until 14 days have passed or until you get results from a third test taken at least 7 days after your arrival.
The state says it’s giving out vouchers at airports for the follow-up tests.
(Scroll down for the Municipality of Anchorage’s rules.)
What if I don’t get my results back in time for my flight?
The state says: “You can quarantine at arrival until the results arrive. Once you provide the results to the state, your quarantine is over.”
And, if I can’t get tested ahead of time?
You can quarantine for two weeks in Alaska.
Or, get tested at the airport when you arrive and quarantine until the result comes back. If it’s negative, the state says, you need to minimize your interactions until you take a second test at least seven days after your arrival.
But the state also cautions that test availability at the airport is not a guarantee.
By late June, Hedberg said she didn’t have concerns about having enough swabs for visitors. Alaska’s chief medical officer, however, has said availability could change if coronavirus cases surge in the state.
“We are going to do our absolute best to have testing available,” said Dr. Anne Zink. “But if we have a huge spike in cases and we have to do a bunch of case investigations, Alaskans come first.”
Do people have to pay to get tested at the airport?
No, Hedberg said.
How long will it take to get results back if I opt to test when I get here?
It could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, the state says.
In the first week of testing at the airport, some travelers reported waiting a week or longer for their results.
State health officials said on June 22 that turnaround time was about three days after fixes were made to the system.
What if my result comes back positive?
If you take a test at the airport and the result comes back positive, you have to quarantine for 14 days or until a health official clears you after a subsequent, negative test result, says the state’s FAQ.
“We strongly encourage travelers to obtain a test prior to travel to reduce the possibility of this occurring,” the document says.
Will the state find me a place to quarantine?
No, Hedberg said. That’s on you and at your own expense. It could be in a hotel room or a house, but it cannot be in a RV that is moving from place to place.
Is anybody tracking where I quarantine?
The state has rolled out a new declaration form. (Check it out here.) Hedberg said travelers should print it out and bring it with them. The state is also working with airlines to have it available on planes, she said.
Also, at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, travelers are asked to use a digital version of the form.
If you are quarantining, you must write on the form the address you’ll be staying, Hedberg said.
However, as the Anchorage Daily News reported, the quarantine requirement relies on voluntary cooperation and not enforcement.
What does quarantining actually mean? Can I go to the grocery store?
Hedberg said it means you don’t go out in the public unless it’s for medical care.
“Stay at your residence. Stay at that location until you can get your results. Do not go to the grocery store,” she said.
What does the state mean when it says I need to minimize my interactions?
It’s less than quarantining, the state says, but you still “need to take more precautions than the usual COVID safety advice.”
“When you buy food, eat in outdoor settings,” the state says. “Order delivery if possible. Wear a face covering if you go into public areas. Take part in outdoor recreation (such as fishing) instead of visiting a museum. Postpone attending gatherings until after this window is over.”
Does my whole family have to get tested?
Everybody age 2 and older has to get tested to be released from the 14-day quarantine requirement, says the state’s FAQ.
Can I show results from an antibody test?
No, the state says.
It’s only accepting molecular-based tests such as the PCR tests — the swab that goes up your nose.
So, what will the airport look like now?
There will be many more employees at airports in Alaska. The City and Borough of Juneau has hired temporary workers to meet, greet and screen passengers. At the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the state has hired Capstone Family Medicine to provide screening.
“We’re going to have 58 people working 12-hour shifts supporting this project,” said Dennis Spencer, Capstone chief executive.
In Anchorage, greeters will direct travelers to areas in the terminal where they hand in their declaration forms, Spencer said. Staff will also review testing results and provide testing and vouchers if needed.
What if I have a flight with a layover in Alaska?
You should be screened and/or tested at the final stop that provides screening and testing, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“Airport screening and testing stations are being staffed based on the times when planes arrive in the state,” he said in an email.
What if I already had the coronavirus?
The state says you must be asymptomatic when you arrive in Alaska. You need to show evidence of a previously-positive, molecular-based test result that occurred at least three weeks prior to your arrival. You also need to have a note of recovery from your medical provider.
Wait. What if I’m an Alaskan who’s leaving for a trip?
The state says you should check the local rules for where you’re headed.
If you’re an Alaska resident flying back from a trip out of state that was five days or less, you don’t have to get tested out of state. You can either quarantine for 14 days back in Alaska or get tested at the airport when you return, quarantining until you get the result, according to the state’s mandate. You will also get a voucher for a second test to be taken 7 to 14 days after you return, and you should minimize your interactions until you get that second result.
If your trip is longer, you have the same array of options as visitors.
So does this only apply to me if I’m taking a flight to Alaska?
Can local governments set their own rules?
Yes. The state is advising travelers to check with their final destinations to learn about any local restrictions.
Anchorage issued its emergency order for international and interstate travel in early June. Its rules are a bit tighter than the state’s. Here are two of the main differences:
• The city has more strictly defined what minimizing in-person interactions means. In Anchorage, it means you can’t dine-in at restaurants or visit indoor attractions like museums or theaters. You also need to wear face coverings when around non-household members. That applies to travelers who are waiting for their second or third test results.
• The city says people getting to Anchorage within 14 days of arrival in Alaska must inform their hotel or rental lodging of their quarantine status and whether they’re required to minimize in-person interactions. The city says businesses may refuse to serve people who are in quarantine or “minimal-interaction status.”
Do these travel requirements have an expiration date?
Not right now. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said the state will re-evaluate the requirements every day and watch the number of coronavirus cases in Alaska, monitoring for a spike. Anchorage’s rules stay in effect until changed.
What do I do if it’s too hard to get testing in my home state?
Know that you are not alone.
Hedberg, the director of public health, said in early June that the state has received an overwhelming number of calls from people with similar concerns.
“That’s why we have testing available at the airports,” she said, “to make sure that they are tested.”
What about these vouchers?
Travelers will get them at the airport and use them for a second or third test to be taken 7 to 14 days after their arrival.
They can return to the airport for a free test. Or, bring it to another testing site. (The state has a testing site locator on its website.) The state says some of those sites may also charge a fee.
“The voucher is not a form of payment, it is a medical order,” the state says.
The FAQ says the follow-up test is strongly recommended, but not required. However, the city and state say that additional negative test is needed to lift restrictions on minimizing interactions.
And what about out-of-state workers coming to Alaska? Do these changes impact them?
Employees who are traveling and considered part of what the state is calling its “critical infrastructure workforce” need to fill out the new declaration forms, but they will continue to follow their employers’ plans.
Thanks to the readers and listeners who sent in their questions to help inform this story. What did we miss? Email your questions to Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back for updates as we learn more. (This story was last updated June 25.)