Colorado is moving its drive-thru coronavirus testing lab to Montrose on Monday, continuing to target resources around the state as Denver hospitals announced new capabilities to test for the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory disease.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s mobile lab, run in partnership with Montrose County and the Colorado National Guard, will serve about 100 high-risk patients pre-selected by their health care providers and will not accept walk-up or drive-up patients, state officials said.
Since its debut March 11, the Colorado National Guard Mobile Testing Unit have tested more than 800 people at temporary drive-thru locations in Denver, Telluride, Pubelo and Salida. officials said.
As of Sunday, a total of 5,436 people had been tested for the coronavirus in Colorado, with 591 of them testing positive. State officials have been saying for weeks, though, that insufficient testing capabilities mean the number cases in Colorado is surely much higher than the positive test results show.
“We fully expect the number of Coloradans who have COVID-19 is in the thousands,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a Sunday afternoon news conference. “So only a fraction of that has been identified.”
On Monday, National Jewish Health in Denver announced that it has developed a coronavirus test and set up an acute respiratory clinic for patients both suspected of having contracted and confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus.
The hospital began testing inpatients and front-line health care workers over the weekend, and said it plans to expand testing “to the broader community” in the coming days.
“As a tertiary referral hospital with a long history of treating severe lung diseases, we feel it is our responsibility and our mission to share our expertise and contribute however we can in fighting this challenging epidemic,” said Michael Salem, president and CEO of National Jewish Health, in a statement. “We commend our staff who have worked tirelessly to be able to provide this critically needed testing and treatment for COVID-19 patients.”
Late last week, officials at Denver Health told Denverite they had received FDA-approved equipment and can now test up to 200 patients and health care workers for the coronavirus every day, with 24-hour turnaround time on results.
The expanded ability for Denver hospitals to test comes after the Colorado Hospital Association last week urged people with mild respiratory symptoms to avoid emergency rooms and instead consult with their primary care provider before seeking testing because of shortages in testing supplies.
Multiple hospital systems, including Centura Health and UCHealth, confirmed to The Denver Post last week that they were limiting coronavirus testing to health care workers and patients with symptoms serious enough they required admission to the hospital.
Similarly, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has urged members of the public to self-isolate before seeking testing if they have mild or early symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The health department suggests people call their medical provider “only if your illness becomes more severe, especially if you are experiencing shortness of breath.”
Those who are not at high risk of severe illness may not need to be evaluated in person by medical personnel or even tested, state health officials said in a news release.