Colorado Still Comes Up Short On Its Coronavirus Testing Goals

May 15, 2020
COVID-19 testing underway at Children's Health Colorado, one of the earliest to create its own tests.COVID-19 testing underway at Children's Health Colorado, one of the earliest to create its own tests.Courtesy of Children's Hospital Colorado
COVID-19 testing underway at Children's Health Colorado, one of the earliest to create its own tests.

Colorado has failed to meet its own goals for testing residents for COVID-19 even though Gov. Jared Polis attests the state has sufficient supplies and testing centers. 

In late April, Polis said his goal was 5,000 daily tests by early May and up to 10,00 daily tests if needed by the end of the month. So far, the state has averaged about 3,800 tests a day by mid-May. Epidemiologists say states need a robust testing and tracing system in order to isolate people with coronavirus and contain the spread. 

The test for the coronavirus is different from so-called serology tests which test people for antibodies to the virus. Experts have questioned the accuracy of antibody tests and it’s still unclear whether a person with antibodies is immune to the virus.

The state said serology tests could help with estimating how many Coloradans have had the virus but isn’t a tool for identifying who is currently sick.

It’s hard to say why the state still struggles to meet its goals. At the start of the crisis, Polis set the goal at 160 Coloradans a day, but only achieved half that many. 

Colorado’s director for mass testing for the COVID-19 Response Team, Kyle Brown, said procurement of needed swabs and testing agents continues to be a challenge. 

“We're still making sure that we have a predictable and sustainable source of supplies,” Brown said. “Those have been opening up and we've been expanding capacity dramatically, but supplies remain an issue.”

Brown said the state is constantly sending emails and making calls to get the necessary supplies. Some are coming from the federal government, others from South Korea and domestic suppliers. 

Another issue is making sure symptomatic people get the test. 

"It's important for folks to know that, if they have symptoms, they can get a test because that's obviously how we're going to stop the spread and contain the virus," said Brown. 

As of May 15, the state has committed to providing a test for anyone who is symptomatic. While some are anxious to get tested to find out if they have the virus, others may feel that visiting a testing site isn’t a priority if they don’t feel sick. 

In his Friday press update on the pandemic, the governor seemed to hedge when asked about daily testing numbers. He noted it varies day-to-day.

“We have the ability to go up to 8,500 or even 10,000 a day,” Polis said. “We have the supplies in hand, we have the community testing centers, but I think we'll be in the five to 10,000 range for most of the month of May.”

Brown said Colorado has a robust process for keeping track of all the testing supplies and where they’re sent as well as a database for labs to report back to the state so it knows who’s getting tested and when.

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