Because of the uptick of cases in Juneau and Ketchikan, SEARHC is relaxing testing criteria for people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. (KCAW photo/Berett Wilber)

You no longer need to have traveled, or come into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to be tested for coronavirus in many Southeast communities.

As of Thursday, March 26, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will test any of its patients showing symptoms of the virus.

“Those criteria have liberalized a bit, and now testing will just be based on the symptomatic criteria of a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath,” said Maegan Bosak, a spokesperson for SEARHC in Sitka.

Formerly, patients had to have presented with a fever of at least 100.4, and traveled from an area where a coronavirus was active, in order to be tested for COVID-19. Bosak says the recent uptick in cases in Ketchikan and Juneau prompted the decision to increase testing.

“The main factor in liberalization is knowing that there is community spread occurring within Southeast of coronavirus,” she said. “So we want to make sure that anyone who needs to be tested and meets those symptoms can be.”

There are still no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Southeast, outside of Juneau and Ketchikan. A Petersburg patient, however, died ten days ago from the virus while hospitalized in Seattle.

Nevertheless, Bosak says that concerns over community spread of coronavirus are affecting the way SEARHC clinics are conducting even routine care. 

“Behavioral health is now conducting most visits via phone or video,” Bosak said. “And primary care will also be rolling out virtual appointments for folks under certain conditions. It’s an opportunity for our patients to continue relationships with providers via video, and to maintain that relationship outside the facility.”

Bosak says the liberalized testing criteria for coronavirus are in effect for all clinics in the consortium. Clinics in Juneau, however, provide service to only SEARHC beneficiaries.