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COVID-19 in Colorado: What to do if you suspect you have symptoms

Isolate yourself, then call your health provider before going to doctor's office or ER
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Posted at 4:23 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 18:23:34-04

DENVER – As more presumptive positive cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) show up in Colorado and officials continue to warn people about the spread of the virus, you might be wondering exactly what to do if you feel you might have symptoms.

The first thing to know is that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is conducting coronavirus tests for people, but only for those who meet certain criteria at the moment.

Coronavirus in Colorado: COVID-19 cases, locations and live updates across the state

On Wednesday, the CDPHE will open a drive-up lab at their Lowry facility (8100 E Lowry Blvd in Denver) that will allow people who have a doctor’s note to be tested for the virus. But that last part is key: Only people with a doctor’s note can be tested at the drive-up facility.

Other current criteria that people need to be meet in order to be tested are:

· People have fever or symptoms of a lower respiratory illness and have been in contact with someone confirmed to have the virus within 14 days of the onset of symptoms.
· People have fever or symptoms of a lower respiratory illness, have had other diagnoses ruled out, and recently traveled to an area with high infection rates within 14 days of becoming symptomatic.
· People have a severe acute respiratory illness, such as pneumonia, that requires hospitalization and has no other explained diagnosis.

Colorado governor declares state of emergency to increase COVID-19 testing, implement paid sick leave

Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that LabCorp-affiliated hospitals and doctor’s offices – of which Polis said many in Colorado are affiliated – can also perform testing for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, though the results take 3-4 days to be turned around instead of the 24 hours they take at the state lab. Polis said that both UCHealth and Children’s Hospital were also developing testing methods.

Colorado governor declares state of emergency to increase COVID-19 testing, implement paid sick leave

What to do if you have symptoms?

The first thing you should do if you are experiencing symptoms (flu-like symptoms, fever, lower respiratory illness, shortness of breath, pneumonia, bronchitis) is isolate yourself and contact your medical provider or doctor and ask what the best route is for you to get checked out and – if warranted – tested for COVID-19. Doctor’s offices are working to set up their protocol for how to inspect and treat people with possible cases, the governor said Tuesday.

Do not go straight to an emergency room or straight to the doctor’s office and limit your distance from other people – including staying in a separate room if possible.

Several health providers, including Kaiser Permanente, Aetna/CVS, Anthem, Bright Health, Cigna, Friday Health, Humana, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Oscar Health and United Health Care also have telehealth services, which the state is encouraging people to use, if possible, in order to limit potential exposure to others. Click on the respective links to find each provider’s telehealth service information.

Gov. Polis said Tuesday that the state had 900 COVID-19 tests and had a commitment from the CDC that 1,500 more would be on the way this week. He said he hoped that those tests, paired with the LabCorp tests, would lead to a large increase in testing and could limit and slow the spread of the virus as suspected cases are isolated or quarantined.

If your health provider does suspect that you might have COVID-19, they will be able to give you a note to get a test at the drive-up facility or can obtain and submit tests through the state lab.

The state lab is prioritizing tests for people who currently meet the criteria.

Polis said Tuesday that the state was preparing additional safe testing locations, including one in the High Country.

How will you pay for treatment and missing work if I contract COVID-19?

If you have insurance through your employer, the state is advising people to contact their employer and insurance provider to figure out the best route to receive care.

Gov. Polis sent down several directives to the state Division of Insurance on Monday to try to cut down on potential costs for anyone who is confirmed to have coronavirus, and more on Tuesday after he made an emergency declaration that deal with addressing paid sick leave for state and private employees.

One of the directives passed on by DOI to insurance carriers on the state marketplace gives them guidance to waive co-pays, deductibles, coinsurance and cost-sharing for people on state insurance carriers – though not for employer-sponsored insurance.

Plans covered by DOI have a “CO-DOI” notation in the bottom corner of the insurance card.

Another directive orders carriers to provide COVID-19 testing “without the requirement that consumers pay co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance.”

Those payments would be waived for in-network office visits, in-network urgent care visits and emergency room visits if someone is looking to be tested for the virus. And if in-network providers do not conduct COVID-19 testing, carriers must cover out-of-network testing as well, according to the state.

And carriers are also being directed to cover a one-time early refill of any “necessary prescriptions” for people – not including drugs that are more likely to be abused, like opioids – in the chance that they have to quarantine themselves at home.

For those of you who do not have health insurance, we have asked the state about what you should do and will have updates as soon as we know.

Also Tuesday, Polis directed the state Department of Labor and Employment to start rulemaking so that people who work in the food, childcare, health care, education and hospitality industries can receive paid sick leave to miss work if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms so they can both be tested for COVID-19 and be paid to take the days as they wait for the test results.

The governor said that additional rulemaking would be developed in coming days for wage replacement or other forms of relief for those workers should they test positive for COVID-19 and need to quarantine or isolate themselves so that people can support themselves and their families and pay rent.

Who is most at risk and what comes next?

Polis said that “a lot of evidence” shows about 80% of people who have COVID-19 can typically manage their illness in quarantine at home using over-the-counter medications. But about 20% –typically older people and people with compromised immune systems – are at a much higher risk of developing severe cases that could require hospitalization.

He said people who are younger and healthy should recognize that the virus poses “a potentially lethal threat” to those higher-risk people.

But people of all ages can still contract COVID-19. As of Tuesday afternoon, the presumptive positive cases in Colorado range from a school-aged girl in Douglas County, to people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 70s.

The state encouraged people – particularly in those high-risk groups – to limit their public exposure and discouraged them from attending large public gatherings. He said that while there were no confirmed community-spread cases as of Tuesday morning, the state was expecting its first case of that sort in coming days.

Polis said Tuesday the state would be issuing guidance in coming days around how schools and nursing homes, among others, should be responding but said the state is hoping to avoid significant closures.

Don’t forget to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or a 60% or more alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue and throw it away immediately, then wash your hands.

If you already suspect you have symptoms or have a positive case of COVID-19, wearing a mask could help prevent the spread of the virus to others, but health officials say wearing one if you are not symptomatic will not do as much good. Officials also suggest people clean the surfaces most-touched in their homes and workspaces often with household cleaners or alcohol wipes.

For more resources on COVID-19 and how to respond from the state of Colorado, click here for the state’s COVID-19 page or here for more recommendations.