A health care professional prepares to administer a COVID-19 test outside Capstone Clinic in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Capstone announced Wednesday it will end public COVID-19 testing at the end of the month. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

A health care professional prepares to administer a COVID-19 test outside Capstone Clinic in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Capstone announced Wednesday it will end public COVID-19 testing at the end of the month. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Capstone to discontinue public COVID testing

The public COVID-19 testing program will end at the end of the month

Capstone Clinics across Alaska will end their public COVID-19 testing program at the end of the month, after more than two years of providing services during the pandemic.

In addition to the Kenai clinic, drive-thru and satellite testing for non-patients will no longer be available at Capstones in Wasilla, Palmer, Eagle River, Anchorage and the Deadhorse Aviation Center on the North Slope. This also includes Capstone’s airport and kiosk locations across the state. Previously, uninsured people could get their tests through the clinics subsidized by the federal government, and insured non-patients could use Capstone’s services. Now, however, Capstone will only provide COVID testing to established patients or those seeking to become new patients.

“We can still take care of (patients’) testing needs,” Matt Jones, the director of non-clinical operations at Capstone headquarters in Wasilla, said Wednesday.

Jones said the decision to discontinue public testing, including drive-thru operations, was mainly due to a lack of federal funding. In March, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) stopped accepting COVID testing and treatment claims from health care providers for uninsured patients, citing a “lack of sufficient funds.”

Jones said ceasing public testing was a “business decision.”

“Our ability to cover that cost has also dropped,” he said.

Even after the HRSA announcement, Capstone continued to administer tests. But as COVID cases have fallen, so has the demand for services.

At the Kenai Capstone clinic last fall, health care providers reported an increase in demand for testing. According to Clarion archives, cars were backed up through the Three Bears Grocery parking lot and lining up down Walker Street over Labor Day weekend — some people even waiting upward of four hours to get tested.

Jones said now testing is down around 90% from previous COVID peaks. During the heat of the omicron wave, he said, Capstone clinics across Alaska were testing more than 3,000 people per day. That has since dropped to around 200 or 250 daily.

Capstone will close its public testing sites on June 30.

In Kenai, Odyssey Family Practice is still offering COVID walk-in testing and testing by appointment, and the Kenai Public Health Center still offers testing by appointment, as well as free take-home test kits. Walmart sells at-home test kits, but doesn’t provide in-house testing.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Soldotna Walgreens are also still offering testing by appointment.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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