Ten weeks after the coronavirus’s presence first was confirmed in the state, any Coloradan with COVID-19 symptoms can now get tested, for free, whether or not they have health insurance, Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday.
That’s a major change. In the initial months of the pandemic, testing was limited largely to front-line health workers and people who already were hospitalized with suspected COVID-19, or who had severe enough symptoms they could secure a doctor’s order.
Since mid-March, Polis has said the state needed to be testing up to 10,000 people every day in order to execute an appropriate response — but Colorado, for many weeks, was only testing a few hundred people every day. Only recently has the state consistently been testing several thousand people per day, with its daily peak of about 4,500 reached last week.
That it took the state so long to reach this testing capacity was a point of great frustration for the governor, who previously described himself as “so disappointed” in the country’s meager testing infrastructure.
“Now that you can get tested, you really should get tested,” said Polis, in a news conference held outside a Wheat Ridge health center that these days is doubling as a testing site with both virus and antibody tests.
At the start of the news conference, Polis said, “We are now testing in Colorado everybody who is asymptomatic who wants to get tested.”
He misspoke and did not mean to imply that anyone, including people exhibiting no symptoms of the virus, can now get tested, spokesman Conor Cahill said.
What Polis meant to convey is that anyone with coronavirus symptoms, including a dry cough, shortness of breath or loss of a sense of smell, should get tested as soon as possible, and that asymptomatic people who are interacting with the public — health care workers, grocery store employees and others — can and should get tested, too.
“It’s free, there’s no out-of-pocket (cost), and it’s whether you have insurance or not,” Polis said.
Testing and subsequent contact tracing — that is, the practice by which health officials work to better understand how and where people who’ve tested positive might have spread the virus — are two of five key components to a responsible reopening, the governor said. The other three: “protecting our most vulnerable, the ongoing social distancing, wearing masks.”
The state’s coronavirus website now shows about three-dozen sites around Colorado where testing is available, though Polis noted that many more doctor’s offices that aren’t listed on the site can now test as well.
Kroger has set up three testing sites, in Boulder, Denver and Greeley. Walmart will be testing in Greeley, Fort Morgan, Aurora and Westminster.
“We really want to make this as convenient as possible,” Polis said, stressing that “cost is not a barrier.”
Polis also said that anyone getting tested now can expect a result within 48 hours, and that anyone who thinks or knows that they are positive for the coronavirus should remain out of contact with others until no symptoms present for at least five days.
As of Monday, more than 22,000 people in Colorado have tested positive for the coronavirus, though the actual number of cases is undoubtedly much higher than that, since testing supplies have been so limited to this point. Colorado’s testing rate — 57.14 tests per 100,000 people on Monday — has been improving in recent weeks, but still hovers around half of the 152 tests per 100,000 people that health experts have said is necessary to safely monitor the virus.
Polis said that as testing increases, he expects positive cases will spike as well, but that he does not believe this should be cause for any alarm. In fact, he hopes that with more testing, people can feel safer taking measured risks and interacting with the outside world.
“The economy is about confidence and it’s about making sure people know the virus is contained at a level where they can go about their daily lives without putting their lives at a great risk,” he said.
Courtesy of The Denver Post