Colorado Public Health Officials Can Now Test For Coronavirus

Carl Bilek/CPR News
A man wears a health mask while riding RTD’s light rail on January 27, 2020.

UPDATE: Thursday, 3/5

Colorado health officials announced the state had its first positive case of the new coronavirus on Thursday, March 5. The patient was an out-of-state visitor to Summit County, a male in his 30s. He had contact with someone who had the disease outside of Colorado. The state tested him for the virus and received a positive result.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 3/3

Colorado just raised its emergency preparedness level to its second-highest level due to coronavirus concerns. Our original story continues below.

Colorado’s health department said it now is able to conduct tests for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Cases of the disease rose nationally and around the world in recent weeks.

The state currently has no known cases of COVID-19.

Up until now, only the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could test patients in Colorado.

The test will only be used for patients who meet specific criteria that indicate they may be at higher risk of having contracted the virus, according to a press statement issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The state lab has the capacity to test up to 160 samples per day, assuming test kits from the CDC are available. The state expects it should be able to have results within 24 hours after the laboratory receives a specimen. 

“The time frame for testing cases should be quicker than ever,” State Lab Director Scott Bookman said in the statement. “Being able to confirm or rule out cases of COVID-19 at the state level allows us to be more nimble in responding to and controlling this disease if it occurs in Colorado.”

The U.S. has struggled to keep pace with disease, including lagging behind in having enough tests. Some tests initially didn’t pass quality control measures and state health officials across the country initially did not have permission to conduct their own testing.

Public health officials ultimately decide who receives the tests. They’ll weigh factors including if the patient has a fever or signs of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath; if the patient has been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19 or if the patient recently traveled to parts of the world where infection rates are high or community spread is occurring. In both cases, that’s within 14 days of when a patient’s symptoms started. They’ll also consider whether the patient requires hospitalization and other diagnoses such as the flu have been ruled out.

If a medical provider thinks a patient may have COVID-19, the provider will contact the state or a local public health department for instructions regarding testing. 

The state has a hotline for the disease called CO HELP. For answers in many languages including English, Spanish Mandarin, and more: