Carrs and Safeway pharmacies in Alaska are now offering at-home COVID-19 test kits for $139.99 each, available in store or by mail delivery. Customers provide a saliva sample and then mail the kit to a lab using a prepaid FedEx label.
Safeway Director Pharmacy Operations David Green said at-home testing won’t replace a community health response, but he hopes it provides some flexibility with the way people can get tested.
However, there are a couple downsides. For one thing, the tests have to reach a lab in New Jersey within 72 hours of providing a sample.
“There is some time sensitivity to it,” Green said. “Because if the lab receives it after 72 hours, you’re not going to get a result.”
Allowing two days for shipping, that means samples have to be mailed within 24 hours. Customers will also have to work with pharmacists on when to take the test to line up with FedEx flight schedules. In Alaska, where weather delays frequently hold up shipping schedules, that could mean a test expires before it gets to the lab.
“That could be an issue if we did have bad weather for several days. That could certainly be a factor,” said Elsa DeHart, a nurse consultant for the State of Alaska based on Kodiak Island.
She said the kits might not be a reliable option for people who live in remote areas and the $140 price tag could be steep, especially for someone who already has access to testing in their community. But she thinks they could be useful for traveling out of state, since unopened tests stay good for more than a year.
“If I could purchase a kit, take it with me, right before I’m ready to go, send it in and make my trip a little easier. That would be a great advantage for people here,” she said, adding that she knows of people who have had difficulty obtaining a COVID-19 test in the Lower 48 to comply with Alaska’s travel requirements.
The Carrs Safeway test kits are manufactured by a New Jersey-based health technology company called Phosphorus, which reports about 97-98 percent accurate results. This type of test in known as a “molecular” or “viral” test, which is meant to identify an active coronavirus infection. While it’s not FDA-approved, the FDA allows the Phosphorus at-home test under an emergency use authorization. Green said they’re available at all Carrs Safeway pharmacies in Alaska.