Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday unveiled a plan to scale up coronavirus testing in Colorado, saying the state’s goal is to provide screening to all symptomatic people who want it by May 15.
“We’re still working to get that infrastructure in place,” Polis said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “We’re building this car as we’re driving. It’s a labor-intensive effort.”
Polis said Colorado is expecting shipments in the coming weeks from the federal government and private businesses of swabs and testing reagents that will dramatically increase the state’s ability to screen people for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The state currently has the capacity — between its public health lab and private health care providers — to process up to 10,000 tests a day. But because of supply constraints only a fraction of that amount is actually being done.
“The test is complicated. Supplies are limited. That’s why this has been such a challenge for Colorado and for America to get where we need to be on testing,” the governor said. “I’m proud to tell you that I’m optimistic that we’re getting where we need to be.”
The hope is that the broader testing will allow the state to identify outbreaks early on and stop them from worsening as restrictions are loosened on Coloradans’ movement starting this week. The state lab is now able to turn around results in as little as 24 hours, down from a maximum of five days.
Polis said the goal is to have the capacity to test a minimum of 5,000 people a day by the middle of May. But he hopes the state can do even more — 8,500 tests a day — by the month’s end.
Right now, Colorado is processing between 2,000 and 3,000 tests a day between the state’s lab and private partners. That’s up from just 160 a day when coronavirus was first confirmed in the state in early March.
The plan is to eventually have a testing site in each of Colorado’s 64 counties in partnership with local public health officials. Colorado’s state lab has already sent supplies to support dozens of community testing sites.
Polis said the state will help with staffing if necessary.
“Many of them are excited to get working,” Polis said of local health departments. “They were held back by supplies, which we’re now giving them.”
The state launched one such site in Weld County in the past week. Out of 882 people tested, 124 tested positive. Of those who tested positive, 34 were asymptomatic.
To bolster testing, the state is also partnering with private sector hospitals and health care provides, like National Jewish Health, Denver Health and Kaiser Permanente.
Finally, Colorado is also finding business partners to help, including Kroger — the owner of King Sooper’s — which offered two days of testing this week at the Auraria Campus in Denver. The company is planning to offer screening in Boulder in the coming days.
Polis said the state is working to scale up its epidemiological team to partner infection tracing with the new testing capacity. Colorado has nearly doubled its epidemiological team to 56 people in the past two weeks.
“It’s not just about the testing,” he said. “It’s then about how do you follow up, make sure anybody who tests positive is isolating (and), not only that, make sure that those who have come into contact with them are notified.”
One potential weakness in the testing plan: People who have been infected with coronavirus but don’t show symptoms. Polis has said that as many as half of all COVID-19 cases fall into that asymptomatic category.
“You can’t really pull them out from the rest of the population,” the governor said. “They don’t know they have it.”
There were 766 coronavirus deaths and 17,758 confirmed and probable cases of the disease in Colorado through Wednesday afternoon.