State officials provided more detail Tuesday about how the new testing rules for nonresident visitors to Alaska will function beginning next Tuesday.
The concept of requiring nonresident travelers to have a COVID-19 test within 72-hours of arriving in Alaska was first announced this past week by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Few details were provided, other than nonresidents would no longer be able to receive tests at the airport traveler testing sites that Alaska residents would continue to have access to.
On Tuesday, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum elaborated on the plan, which now will allow nonresidents to be tested at the travelers sites for a charge.
In general, said Crum, all residents must arrive with a negative result of a COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival — or proof of a pending result from a test taken within that same time frame.
Nonresidents will have to upload the negative test result into an online “Alaska Travel Portal, ” said Crum, adding that a link to the new portal will be available soon.
In addition, a nonresident traveler tested within 72 hours of arrival but still awaiting the result will “need to upload the proof of a test taken into the Alaska Travel Portal and then quarantine while waiting for results,” Crum said.
“So they can take the test …, come into Alaska, and quarantine for a day or two while they wait for their results and then go about their trip,” he said.
Nonresidents who arrive without a test will be able to obtain a test at the airports, Crum continued.
“We will be charging a fee for those tests,” he said. “The travelers will be required to quarantine while waiting on results.”
Later, Dunleavy said the rule was not an attempt to keep people out of Alaska. Visitors can come in, they’ll just need a negative test from outside the state, he said.
“If they can’t (get a test before arrival) and they come into Alaska, they would be charged for a test,” Dunleavy said. “So were hoping that that helps motivate folks as part of their planing process to be tested before they come in here.”
Nonresident travelers will be charged $250 for a test in Alaska, according to a travel update on the DHSS website.
Crum said the existing critical infrastructure plans and community workforce protection plans would remain in operation.
“So (nonresident travelers) will continue to travel based upon those plans, working with their companies and what they’re supposed to do,” Crum said.
In essence, the new rules for nonresidents are not much different from the current rules for travelers arriving in Alaska from out of state.
The current rules require arriving travelers to complete a traveler declaration form, arrive with proof of a qualifying negative COVID-19 test or receive a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Alaska, self-quarantining at own expense until the results arrive. There’s also the option of self-quarantining for 14 days, or for the duration of the visit, whichever is shorter, according to DHSS. A second COVID-19 test is required within 7 to 14 days after arrival in Alaska.
For Alaska residents, the protocol for returning from out of state appears to remain the same, with testing available at no cost to residents. Residents also will be able to quarantine for 14 days if they don’t want to take a test.
A key new feature of the new protocols is that Alaska residents who are traveling within Alaska and returning back home from hub areas to rural communities can be tested at the airport testing sites.
“Alaska residents traveling back home to communities in rural Alaska, will now have the option of testing at these airport sites, so they can prevent bringing the virus into their small communities,” Crum said.
This shift of testing resources for internal travel was a factor in the administration’s change in the protocols.
Dunleavy on Tuesday reiterated comments made last week that the state had begun to see a tightening of testing supplies.
“What we noticed a couple of weeks ago as cases rose across the world, across the country, that certain supplies are starting to tighten a little bit,” he said. “And as our cases have gone up here in Alaska, we wanted to make sure that we had the resources necessary to deal with our situation internally in Alaska.”
Refocusing existing supplies allows more resources to test Alaskans traveling from hub areas back to rural homes, he said.
“Testing folks from outside of the state of Alaska, that’s a good thing if we can continue to do it,” Dunleavy said. “And we’ll watch our supply and our equipment, because we don’t know — maybe in a few weeks, that supply chain, that equipment, those supplies may loosen up again, it may be easier to take a different approach.”
Crum said that more information about the new protocols would be made available soon.
He added that no tests will be required of children aged 10 years or less.
A significant portion of Tuesday’s press conference was devoted to issues surrounding how the novel coronavirus will affect the upcoming school year. Coverage of that subject is anticipated in a later edition of the Daily News.