DENVER – Only hospital staff, hospitalized patients, those most at-risk who already have symptoms and critical health care workers and first responders are currently being prioritized for COVID-19 testing because of a limited number of tests and personal protective equipment, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Monday afternoon.
That had mostly been the case for nearly two weeks in Colorado, but the department issued new guidance on the state’s testing strategy Monday that implements a tier system for testing only those who need it the most at the moment until more equipment is received, the department said.
“Right now, due to limited supplies of testing kits and person protective equipment, testing needs to be focused on the people who are the most at-risk from this disease and the people in charge of caring for and keeping the rest of us safe,” said Scott Bookman, the CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander.
“It’s important to protect the most critical element of the health care system. We are working hard to get the supplies and capacity to move to broader public testing, but until then our message remains the same: if you have only mild symptoms, self-isolate and don’t wait for a test,” Bookman added.
The CDPHE said the two primary routes to being tested as of Monday involved people falling into the following two groups:
--Hospital staff, hospitalized patients, and vulnerable, symptomatic patients receiving care at health care facilities may be tested at those same facilities.
--Critical health care workers and first responders who have symptoms may be tested at community testing sites being run by local public health agencies.
The CDPHE said the Colorado Unified Coordination Group is developing plans so local public health agencies are able to run their own testing sites once more are received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Colorado’s Major Disaster declaration request, which opens up Colorado to receive more federal funding and materials, was approved over the weekend.
Some hospitals are ramping up testing as well, and STRIDE Community Health Center will have locations open in Wheat Ridge and Aurora starting Tuesday.
The state sent 4,200 of 4,500 test kits it did have to public health departments in Larimer, El Paso and Mesa Counties. The state director of emergency operations said last week the state was hopeful it would receive an additional 3,000 kits this week. The state originally said it sent 300 tests to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe but later said it did not.
But since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends PPE usage for testing, which is only meant for one-time use, the CDPHE has recommended health care providers prioritize testing by three tiers.
Tier 1: Hospitalized patients and health care workers with symptoms
Tier 2: Patients in long-term care facilities, homeless shelters or correctional facilities who have symptoms; patients over 65 with symptoms; patients with underlying conditions that meet CDC guidelines and have symptoms; first responders with symptoms; critical infrastructure workers with symptoms who follow under CISA guidelines; and people with symptoms who work with vulnerable populations or in group residential settings.
Tier 3: Other individuals with symptoms
The CDPHE also said Monday that people should not wait for a test to self-isolate, and said not everyone with symptoms would be tested right away. People who aren’t at the highest risk of developing the most-severe illnesses may not need to be tested at all, CDPHE said, and can manage their symptoms under self-isolation.
But anyone with severe respiratory illness and shortness of breath is asked to call a health care provider to see if you need expedited treatment, or 911 if you’re having a medical emergency – especially shortness of breath.
And everyone who has symptoms of any sort is asked to self-isolate until you have been fever-free and free of other symptoms for at least 72 hours without medicine and have seen at least 7 days elapse since your symptoms first appeared. People who have had close contact with symptomatic people have also been advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Click here for the latest COVID-19 updates in Colorado.