Most travelers screened at Alaska airports opt to test for COVID-19 instead of two-week quarantine

Travelers arriving from out of state go through the health screening process at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Monday. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Most people who took a flight to Alaska from out of state last week opted to bypass the two-week quarantine and undergo COVID-19 testing instead, according to state health officials.

A total of 12,044 people got screened at eight airports during the second week of the state’s revised travel rules, said Tessa Walker Linderman, the state’s port of entry coordinator for its COVID-19 response.

Here’s how many chose to test vs. quarantine, she said:

• 4,894 people opted to get swabbed for the virus at the airport and quarantine themselves until their test results arrived.

• 4,237 brought proof of a negative test result with them. (Travelers must take the test within 72 hours of departure to avoid testing at the airport.)

• 1,953 said they would quarantine for two weeks in Alaska.

• The rest either were outside of Alaska for less than 24 hours, are critical infrastructure workers following their companies’ plans or had proof that they’ve recovered from the virus.

Walker Linderman said 13 passengers who got swabbed for the virus at the airport tested positive for the disease. 

Tessa Walker Linderman, the state’s port of entry coordinator for its COVID-19 response, provides an update on health screenings at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Monday. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

She said the turnaround time for results from airport tests is improving.

RELATED: Some Alaska travelers report long waits for COVID-19 test results. Health officials say fixes are underway.

In the first week of the state’s new set-up, some travelers reported waiting five days or more to get their results back. That meant they had to quarantine longer in Alaska — an unexpected delay for tourists and some Alaskans who said they couldn’t return to their jobs when they expected to.

RELATED: The state has revised its two-week quarantine requirement. Here’s what we know about the changes.

Now, Walker Linderman said, “We really are seeing turnaround time within that 72-hour window.”

Walker Linderman said the state will keep working with its contractors at airports to smooth the screening and testing process. They expect the number of travelers to continue to rise this summer as word of the new policy spreads, and as other states continue to reopen.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.