Positive COVID-19 cases identified through the use of an at-home antigen test kit — which are now being distributed throughout Alaska, including Ketchikan — are not counted in the state's total number of coronavirus cases by officials from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services or by local public health officials who manage the community's virus information dashboard.

While the cases identified through at-home kits are not represented in Alaska's total number of COVID-19 cases — or a community's case total — individuals can still contact local health officials to seek information about how to notify their own close contacts, as health officials also do not perform contact tracing for cases identified through test kits.

Clinton Bennett, a communications specialist with DHSS, wrote to the Daily News on Wednesday morning that "the state of Alaska is not counting results from antigen COVID tests because the results (positive or negative) cannot be confirmed by a medical professional."

"It is recommended that you should share positive test results with your healthcare provider to learn about possible treatment options or any other appropriate medical follow-up that you might need, but it should be noted that many treatment options require a positive PCR test," Bennett wrote.

In a follow-up email on Thursday, Bennett wrote that the State of Alaska has never included test results from at-home kits in its case counts.

When an individual calls a health care provider to learn about treatment options, Bennett noted that "this might include being asked to contact your own close contacts and make them aware of your recent test results."

Alaska's Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink spoke about the at-home test kits during a Thursday media briefing, also acknowledging that those results are not sent to the state's Section of Epidemiology to be recorded as a case in Alaska.

"We also know that over-the-counter tests have become much more widely available on the private market, in general," Zink said. "The state also has been helping have some and many of the regions have been working in this space, many for many, many months. Those are not required by the federal government by the state to report in, nor is there always a great mechanism to report them in. We want to make sure people know how to isolate themselves and contact their close contacts if they are positive, but again, we want to empower individuals to have the information themselves. ... As well as to access treatment early on. So really, as we have more tools throughout this pandemic, we've been able to pivot and be able to respond differently."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a close contact as an individual who was within six feet of a positive individual for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. Online CDC guidance notes that that includes 15 minutes split into smaller time periods during the day-long exposure window.

Not everyone who is exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual will need to quarantine, according to the CDC. Individuals over the age of 18 who have received all doses in their primary vaccine series and a booster shot are not required to quarantine. Individuals between the ages of 5 and 17 who have received only the primary series doses of a vaccine also do not need to quarantine, along with those who have tested positive in the past 90 days.

Those who do need to quarantine are unvaccinated individuals, individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago and have not received a booster shot, or individuals over the age of 18 who have not received a booster of any vaccine.

Because the cases identified through the antigen kits are not counted, the state's calculated percent positivity rate does not reflect those results, according to Zink. DHSS will be removing a portion of the information dashboard dedicated to test positivity and incorporating other testing information into a related dashboard.

"Our percent positivity it really is kind of changing in its usefulness," Zink said. "We'll continue to be reporting out how many tests were reported in, and how many of those were positive or negative. But again, test positivity will be a less useful metric moving forward."

Ketchikan Public Health Nurse Manager Jennifer Bergen confirmed to the Daily News on Wednesday that when an individual in Ketchikan tests positive through an at-home test and calls KPH to self-report the result, the case will not be counted and a health official will not conduct a contact tracing interview.

Bergen also noted that the Ketchikan Public Health Center provides support and education to those in the community who call with COVID-19 concerns, including for high-risk settings in the community, but that the "central staffing model" — referring to health officials not located in Ketchikan — often conduct contact tracing for positive cases determined from lab-based tests.

"The staff here does more of like the local stuff like consulting, like the school district or whoever else," Bergen said. "We do high risk settings. Um, and we do a lot of community education. So actual, individual contacting is done mostly from our central staffing model ... not local."

Bergen said it is "hit or miss" regarding whether local public health nurses are able to conduct contact tracing interviews.

"The state is still contact tracing for those that are actually running lab-certified tests," according to Bergen.

KPH Nurse Arizona Jacobs told the Daily News during a Tuesday phone call that some local entities may do their own contact tracing, such as the Ketchikan School District and PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. Jacobs said that KPH officials assisted in training personnel from those entities on contact tracing practices.

"It's not that we don't care that somebody's positive, it's just kind of a power to the people kind of thing," Jacobs said about KPH's response to a positive case. "Let's say you work at PeaceHealth and you test positive and have a home antigen test that's positive. We may not trace you, but PeaceHealth might. If you're a teacher, we might not trace you, but the school might. So just thinking about those kinds of things are super important. It's not that we're not doing anything at all, it's that we've taught a lot of these entities to trace themselves."

On Prince of Wales Island, Craig Public Health officials also do not report COVID-19 cases identified through at-home antigen test kits, and also will not conduct contact tracing investigations into those cases, according to a late afternoon recording on the Craig Public Health COVID-19 information hotline.

"COVID-19 disease surveillance by public health is changing," the hotline stated. "With the large number of at-home antigen testing available, we are transitioning somewhat from public health managing cases and contacts to individuals managing their own cases and reaching out to their own close contacts."

The statement continued, "Craig Public Health continues to case investigate positive lab-based tests from medical providers. Craig Public Health will not report out data on self-reported at-home antigen tests. If you have taken an at-home antigen test and it is positive, you are welcome to call Craig Public Health for guidance."

The hotline now will be updated with new information regarding COVID-19 case counts on Prince of Wales Island once weekly. The message did not state on which days the hotline will be updated.

Craig Public Health officials also will cease posting a COVID-19 dashboard on Facebook, according to the hotline.