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IFHS Secures Funding For Two Different 'Rapid' COVID-19 Testing Systems

Laura Kraegel


Unalaska's clinic will soon have two different types of "rapid" COVID-19 testing devices — the Abbott IDNow system and the Cepheid GeneXpert IV-2 Molecular system. 

Two systems may seem redundant. But Melanee Tiura, clinic director of Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS), said it's important to note there are national shortages for both the testing systems and the testing supplies. By using two different systems, the clinic hopes to be able to source adequate testing supplies to meet community and industry needs. 

"I will mention that I think everyone likes the idea of having tests available. We like the idea of having these tests available, and not waiting many days to receive results," said Tiura. "But there will still be a screening process to make sure that people who need the test are getting the test. So we will still be following a priority order for testing. Even though we have the units, we will still be very dependent on the testing supply kits that are available."

The first system, the Abbott IDNow, was provided by both the state and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). Unalaska has four Abbott machines capable of running the tests. Test results take just 15 minutes, compared to the 24 to 48 hours required to ship and process conventional tests in state labs.

Tiura said the clinic was notified that they would receive the Abbott systems earlier this month from the Strategic National Stockpile managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 192 test kits arrived with two Abbott machines on Friday. 


"Early on in the spread of COVID-19, IFHS reached out to the State of Alaska to request consideration for placement of a point-of-care testing unit in Unalaska from state supplies," said Tiura. "We received a notification on April 9th, that we would be the recipients of two Abbott IDNow units."

While the clinic waited for the equipment to arrive, it partnered with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) to offer testing. The tribal organization received two Abbot IDNow systems through the ANTHC in early April. 

Lori Jackson, medical director and family nurse practitioner for APIA, said the organization has testing equipment in St. George, Unalaska, and Atka. 


"We don't have a lot of testing, not the ability to do everybody, but we have the definite ability to do any symptomatic or any concerned people," said Jackson. 

Jackson said the organization and clinic are following state guidelines and using the tests sparingly until they are able to get more. In addition to the clinic's 192 Abbott IDNow test kits, APIA has 248 test kits available in Unalaska, with an additional 24 tests in Atka, 42 in St. George, and 10 in Nikolski.

"Testing is necessary to protect and also prevent the spread of COVID-19 right now," said Jackson. "We can have a better handle on how to look after anybody who's symptomatic and how to protect the rest of the population. We want to make sure that we are looking after our entire population as best as we can, and having these devices, and being able to have that rapid response, is essential for us in caring for everybody." 

In addition to the Abbott IDNow testing, the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska gave $46,000 to IFHS to purchase another "rapid" COVID-19 testing system earlier this month. 

Tiura said the clinic purchased the Cepheid GeneXpert IV-2 Molecular system on April 3, and it should arrive in Unalaska in six to 12 weeks. The unit has the capacity to run two tests at a time with results in about 45 minutes.

"[The Qawalangin Tribe] provided $46,000 to purchase that equipment," said Tiura. "It was very generous, very kind. And we were very touched by their commitment to the community."

Tom Robinson, Tribal President, said it was the recommendation of staff and the tribal council to allocate funds to the clinic to purchase the testing system. The tribe receives funding from the federal government for its Village Built Clinic (VBC) annually, and got permission from the Indian Health Service (IHS) to use that funding for the COVID-19 equipment.

"It doesn't take much to figure out that we are a vulnerable population," said Robinson. "And we did this to ensure that our island, industry, and our tribal members, first and foremost, are safe."

As of Tuesday, 35 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Unalaska. All had confirmed negative test results. 

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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