Gov. Jared Polis asked Coloradans on Thursday to enjoy Memorial Day barbecues and picnics this weekend with no more than 10 people, cautioning that about one in 300 state residents is contagious with the virus.
“That one case in a group of 100 people quickly becomes 20 or 30 cases,” he said. “That would mean that we would move backward, that our hospitals would fill up again.”
The governor made the plea as he joined Denver Mayor Michael Hancock outside the Pepsi Center, which will open Friday as a free coronavirus testing site. The arena in downtown Denver is the latest of 34 community testing sites around the state.
The cost for setup and operation of the site is $3.5 million, according to city officials. Funding will come from the federal coronavirus relief package, called the CARES Act.
Denver area residents with at least one symptom of the new coronavirus can register online or dial 311 to sign up for a free test at the Pepsi Center. The site is for residents in the entire metro area, not just those in Denver County. Appointments aren’t required but officials asked people to bring a photo ID and register before arriving for a drive-through test.
The center will be able to provide at least 500 tests per day and will be open seven days per week. Tests administered at the site will determine whether a person currently has coronavirus, not whether they’ve had it in the past and recovered.
“Opening up the economy safely means testing,” Hancock said. “Without a national strategy to help us get this done, states and cities have stepped into the breach to get this done.”
The unveiling of the Pepsi Center site comes as two other testing sites were announced in the metro area, both in Walmart parking lots. Testing was set to begin Friday at store parking lots in Aurora and Westminster. People who have symptoms, as well as first responders and high-risk people who do not have any symptoms, are eligible for free testing.
“We can stay on the right side of this epicurve and get ahead of any future outbreaks and stop them before they have a chance to spread,” the mayor said, noting that he expects the Pepsi Center site will start with up to 500 tests per day and then ramp up capacity.
The testing center will operate 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding holidays. Workers will ask people, if they are able, to administer the nasal swab themselves to “expedite the process and increase safety,” according to the city’s website.
The governor, who had his nose swabbed for a coronavirus test during a news conference Monday, said then that he hopes Colorado can test at least 8,500 people per day by the end of May. The state’s community testing sites are listed online.
“It’s quick, easy and free,” Polis said. “You will be in and out in 15, 20 minutes.
“If you have symptoms, a cough, a fever, we want you to be tested.”
Two and a half months into the outbreak, Colorado now has the ability to test anyone who has symptoms, for free. This represents a major change, since testing was previously limited to health care workers, first-responders and those who were so sick they needed hospitalization.
Almost 23,000 Coloradans have tested positive for the new coronavirus, 3,990 have been hospitalized and 1,299 people with the virus have died.
“COVID-19 is still with us and is likely to be with us for a long time,” Hancock said.
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