The SEARHC testing for COVID-10 takes place in the parking lot at 202 Gjoa St. (Photo/Google Maps

Petersburg has a new way for people to get tested for COVID-19. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium also known as SEARHC is offering free, asymptomatic COVID tests in Petersburg every weekend. KFSK’s Angela Denning has more:

People do not need to have symptoms to get the SEARHC tests and you don’t need to have an appointment. The tests are available for free on Saturdays and Sundays for anyone who wants to get one.

“We won’t turn anyone away,” said Ashley Simpson, Specialty Care Program Manager for SEARHC. “Anyone can get a test. Our testing is available to all people in Petersburg whether you’re a resident or a visitor. You do not have to be a SEARHC patient, we get that question a lot.”

The testing is available 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It takes place in the parking lot at the local SEARHC office, at 202 Gjoa Street. It’s kind of a drive-up testing site where people stay in their cars.

“You come in, we kind of direct you to park in one of the parking places; we walk out to you. We ask the tester to stay in the car,” Simpson said. “We will come out and we will hand you a self-swab kit. So, these are self-swab COVID tests. We walk you through the steps if you’ve never done one before but basically, you’re going to swab yourself. We collect the specimen and then we go ahead and pack it up and send it to our lab.”

The process takes about five minutes. The SEARHC tests are PCR tests, which is the common molecular test for COVID. They are more accurate than rapid antigen tests but take longer to process. The samples are sent to SEARHC’s lab in Sitka to be processed. If there is a backlog of testing in Sitka, they’ll send the samples to a lab in Seattle. Results are usually available within three to seven days. Typically, Simpson says, if someone is tested in Petersburg on the weekend, they will likely get their tests by Wednesday or Thursday.

People will be emailed their test results unless they are positive, in which case they’ll get a phone call.

There is no limit to the number of tests people or businesses can take. Simpson says people can get tested as often as they need.  

“We actually encourage folks to keep coming,” Simpson said. “In a lot of our locations we see repeat testers who just like to do it for peace of mind; they come every week. We’ve also seen local businesses ask their employees or require their employees to come every week or every two weeks as just part of their business testing and we encourage that also. There’s no limit to how many times you can test.”

The SEARHC testing program is funding through a grant from the Indian Health Service. Simpson says even though SEARHC does not have a health clinic in Petersburg, they do have patients here that they serve elsewhere. So, they wanted to provide their testing capabilities.

“We really see the importance of mass testing in communities and how that makes the community feel a bit safer and it’s been really successful in other communities so we are excited to be in Petersburg,” Simpson said.

Simpson says they have hired two local testers in Petersburg as part of their program.

The health consortium is also testing in 13 other communities in Southeast Alaska.

Petersburg Medical Center is also providing COVID-19 testing for people with symptoms and travelers. To schedule a test through PMC, call their COVID hotline at 772-5788.