Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Two test negative for COVID-19 in Haines so far, SEARHC says


March 19, 2020 | View PDF

The local Southeast Regional Health Consortium clinic is offering COVID-19 testing to those in the community who meet a very specific set of criteria.

As of March 13, state guidelines ask providers to test patients who display COVID-19 symptoms, defined as fever and cough, or shortness of breath, and meet at least one of the following criteria: have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, have traveled through a community where local transmission is occurring, are hospitalized, live in a long-term care facility or are a healthcare worker who has tested negative for the flu.

Patients may also be tested if they are part of a high-risk group (over 60 or with a chronic medical condition) or at “clinical discretion.” On March 13, the state announced that providers no longer need to receive approval from the Alaska Section of Epidemiology before testing.

“If a patient (tested for COVID-19) has insurance, we will bill their insurance. If not, the screening will be provided at no cost. The priority remains safety of our patients and communities,” SEARHC spokesperson Maegan Bosak said.

Bosak said on KWAC on Monday that two people tested negative for the virus in Haines. On Wednesday, updated numbers were not provided by press time.

She said the clinic is following state- and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued guidelines to determine who gets tested. The clinic has staff stationed at the door, asking screening questions, and is also screening patients who call over the phone.

“If you don’t meet the screening criteria, it is unlikely you will be tested,” Bosak said. Although each patient will ultimately be assessed on a case-by-case basis with discretion given to physicians, she said.

If a patient comes to the Haines clinic displaying symptoms like a fever, cough or shortness of breath but does not have a history of travel or close contact with the disease, “then you would probably be tested for other diseases… Lot of folks are being tested and treated for regular influenza,” Bosak said. A strain of influenza is currently circulating in the community, according to a borough press release on Wednesday.

A patient tested for COVID-19 will receive results within two to three days, Bosak said. Tests are being sent to labs in Anchorage and Fairbanks. While patients wait to hear back about test results, the clinic instructs them to self-isolate at home, she said.

If a positive COVID-19 test is detected in a Haines patient the SEARHC health system and borough will put out a joint statement to the community as soon as possible, Haines Borough Emergency Operations Center said in a press release on Wednesday. If a patient that tests positive has underlying health conditions that requires ongoing medical support, that patient will be medevacked to a hospital. If the patient does not need medical support, they will be directed to self-quarantine at home.

Guidelines for everything from public gatherings to health care screenings have been changing rapidly over the course of the past week. “At present, this is the screening protocol we’re following,” Bosak said. “Will it be the same in two days? Probably not.”

At press time, Bosak said she did not have specific information about the number of COVID-19 test kits available in Haines.

Consortium-wide, SEARHC has approximately 1,300 specimen collection kits, a number increasing daily as more kits become available, she said.

“Dozens of specimens have been collected for COVID-19 testing around the region including in Wrangell, Sitka, Klawock, Juneau and Haines,” Bosak said.

“It’s important to note that the specimen collection and the screening process is not a cure,” Bosak said. “Even if you are screened for this virus, it doesn’t resolve the issue. There is no known cure at this time.”

Ventilators, medical equipment that assists patients with breathing, have been used to treat serious cases of COVID-19 in other states. Media outlets have reported that these machines could be in short supply in the U.S. if the disease spreads rapidly.

Haines has two ventilators, Bosak said.

This week, the CDC asked healthcare facilities and clinicians to “prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures now and for the coming several weeks.” Delaying elective visits and procedures will allow staff to focus resources on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska rose to nine. At this point, confirmed cases are limited to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward and Ketchikan.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said all cases appear to be travel-related rather than the result of “community spread.” Alaska chief medical officer Anne Zink said the spread is likely to continue unless people take social distancing precautions and alter their behavior. Statewide, there were 400 confirmed negative test results as of Tuesday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website.


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