DENVER – Colorado expects to significantly ramp up its testing capabilities to be able to perform around 8,500 COVID-19 tests per day by the end of May as more testing supplies are received and as community-based testing increases at the county level statewide, Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday.
The governor also announced the state had hired 25 more epidemiologists in the past two weeks, bringing the total to 56, who will work to implement a contact tracing program in conjunction with a digital symptom reporter and tracker businesses and health officials will use to more-quickly identify possible outbreaks.
“We’re building this car as we’re driving,” Polis said in regard to the testing build-up.
He said that the state is currently testing around 3,000 people per day but hope to increase that number to 5,000 people per day by mid-May and to 8,500 or more by the end of the month.
The governor said that private labs and the state lab, combined, could currently test up to 10,000 people per day but are still facing supply constraints surround reagents and test swabs -- something health officials said Tuesday.
But Polis says those supplies are on their way via orders from other countries and from the federal government. The governor said that the White House on Tuesday promised to deliver thousands of swabs, extraction and detection reagents on May 1 and more by the end of the month.
Currently, Colorado has about 15,000 swabs, 20,000 extraction reagents and 100,000 detection reagents, Polis said. With the new shipments, the state expects to have 147,000 swabs and detection reagents each and 117,000 extraction reagents. And by the end of May, the hope is to have 195,000 of each.
Polis said that influx of testing materials should help keep Colorado from overloading the state’s hospital system so long as people can maintain social distancing levels of at least 55% during the “safer at home” phase, which started Monday across most of the state and will kick in on May 9 for most metro area counties.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 14,758 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Colorado and 766 people had died. Polis said that 784 who were confirmed positive were currently hospitalized and that growth in the number of people hospitalized last week was just 0.4%.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released Wednesday updated COVID-19 outbreak data, revealing the state's biggest outbreaks are at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley and the Sterling Correctional Facility. Nursing facilities continue to be the worst affected by the virus, with the highest death toll among the facilities on the list.
Polis also discussed the already-ongoing effort by the state lab to distribute testing supplies to local public health agencies across the state, with the goal of having community testing in all 64 Colorado counties.
Polis said that 51 counties had already submitted requests for community testing supplies. The Colorado Unified Command Center said earlier Wednesday it had already sent out supplies to 42 local agencies that requested them.
He said testing at hospitals and other clinics will continue. The testing done earlier this week in Weld County yielded 124 positive tests – including 34 asymptomatic people.
And at four nursing homes identified for testing by the state, about 1 in 12 people were positive – including 33 people who were asymptomatic and were taken out of the workplace to avoid infection the at-risk population.
Polis said Colorado State University was joining the effort to test symptomatic and asymptomatic employees and patients at nursing facilities, where the bulk of the state’s deaths have come from and plans to test 45,000 people in May and June at those types of facilities.
In a few weeks, Polis said, the groups of people who will be able to get tested will include: symptomatic frontline health care workers; symptomatic hospital and nursing home patients; symptomatic workers and others in places with outbreaks; all symptomatic people who desire it; people at facilities with outbreaks; and some testing of asymptomatic workers at nursing and care facilities.
The state will focus its efforts on swab testing, which the governor said was far more reliable than the blood or serological testing taking place at some private labs. He said those tests were important in identifying people with possible antibodies later on but not in identifying people currently positive for COVID-19.
But he said that there is ongoing research on serological tests, including at CU and CSU, for various communities and types of workers.
Even if the testing ramp-up is successful, Polis reiterated that it was important to continue following safer at home guidance, for people to continue wearing masks and limiting their social interactions, and for at-risk individuals to continue to stay at home in order for all the state’s efforts to work in concert. But he said that the increased capabilities would be helpful.
“We’re optimistic on getting to where we need to be.”