DENVER – Colorado received $10.3 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week to build up its COVID-19 contact tracing and testing programs as the state continues to spend millions in its response to the novel coronavirus.
Colorado Office of Emergency Management Director Mike Willis said Tuesday that the state had spent about $70 million so far on the COVID-19 outbreak. He did not get into specifics about what that money has been spent on but said the materials included PPE and other medical supplies and that the state was working “very closely” with the federal government on finding funding solutions in “a variety of programs.”
Shortly afterward, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release that it had received the $10.3 million from HHS to put toward testing, information sharing, hiring and implementing a contact tracing program.
CDPHE COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said that the state was currently working to hire 50 more epidemiologists to start implementing the contact tracing system and was also working on technical strategies to allow epidemiologists work “go farther.” Bookman said the state was also asking for volunteers who can help in contact tracing to sign up at helpcoloradnow.org.
The $10.3 million from HHS is part of the federally-passed CARES Act to give assistance to state, city and tribal governments to fight COVID-19.
The CDPHE said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control will be issuing further guidance this week on spending parameters for the money received by the department. But the CDPHE said that generally, the money is for two years and intended to cover the following:
· Enhanced case investigation, contact tracing and outbreak response – especially in high-risk setting and among at-risk populations
· Improved surveillance and reporting
· Strengthened and enhanced lab testing
· Improved lab coordination and outreach
· Enhanced workforce capacity
· Enhanced coordination between epidemiologists and labs
· Advancement of electronic information exchange implementation
· Enhanced information systems between health care systems and state and local public health agencies
The CDPHE said it hopes to have plans in place for how to best use the money in “the next few weeks.”
Willis and Bookman reiterated Tuesday that the state was now testing between 2,000 and 3,000 people per day, with a goal of eventually testing 10,000 people her day.
They also made clear that the onus was on Coloradans to continue to keep the spread of the virus at a slow pace even as much of the state’s counties move into the “safer at home” phase and businesses outside of the Denver metro area begin to gradually reopen.
As of Monday afternoon, there had been more than 13,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Colorado and 706 deaths. Nearly 1,000 people confirmed or suspected to have the virus were hospitalized, with 79% of facilities in the state reporting.
Willis said that the lagging hospitalization data will force state officials into some “hard decisions” in the coming weeks on how to modify the state order or have local public health agencies modify their own.
“We wrestle with that kind of thing every day,” he said. “Just know we work really hard to do the best thing for Colorado.”