A photo of a test kit obtained at the Sitka Public Health Center. The center is now providing two test kits per household, free of charge, on a first-come-first-served basis (KCAW Photo)

As omicron drives COVID rates up throughout the nation, Sitkans have more tools in their toolkit to combat the highly transmissible coronavirus variant. The Sitka Public Health Center is now providing at-home tests to the public, free of charge. And if you test positive, your quarantine won’t be as long, with new CDC guidance trimming the quarantine time to five days for COVID-positive patients with no symptoms.

Each household is eligible for two test kits. Each kit includes two rapid antigen tests which are meant to be taken by the same person 24 to 36 hours apart. Once you open the box, it takes about 15 minutes to administer the rapid test and get results.

Sarah Hargrave is the regional nurse manager for Southeast Alaska. In an interview with KCAW, Hargrave said that, to date, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has distributed 97,000 kits to organizations around the state. According to Hargrave, Sitka’s public health center has received 1600 tests, and around 750 are still available. The state has also provided tests for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Sitka School District and Sitka Fine Arts Camp for a total of 2378 tests sent to the community. Hargrave said most of the funding for the antigen tests came from the American Rescue Plan Act, and expects the state will receive more test kits from the federal government in January. 

At a recent Sitka Assembly meeting, the state’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink compared antigen tests to at-home pregnancy tests. She said that rapid antigen tests, while not as sensitive as PCR tests – are effective at detecting COVID-19 when it becomes transmissible. Zink said, “The best test is the one that you take.”

Test kits are available for pickup at the Sitka Public Health Center Monday through Friday, from 8 to 4:30 PM, with a lunch break. The center is located at 210 Moller Avenue across from the baseball field. Those who test positive with an antigen test should schedule a PCR test through SEARHC, according to public health staff. 

Editors Note: This story has been updated to include the location of the Sitka Public Health Center.