Colorado officials urge more schools to participate in free testing program

Gov. Polis says sate hopes to cut down backlog on rapid at-home tests as well
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Posted at 11:44 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 13:44:55-04

DENVER – Colorado officials continue to push more schools and districts to enroll in the state’s COVID-19 testing program, which less than one-third of schools in the state have indicated interest in as of Tuesday, according to the state.

Additionally, Gov. Jared Polis and Dr. Emily Travanty, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s scientific director of the Laboratory Services Division, said the demand for the BinaxNOW at-home rapid tests is currently exceeding the supply, though the state hopes to close that gap in coming weeks.

Gov. Polis urges more Colorado school districts to participate in testing program

Travanty said there were 621 interested schools and 439 that had completed enrollment in the state’s free testing program for schools as of Tuesday and urged more schools and districts to sign up. Out of nearly 7,000 tests administered so far through the program, there have been 61 detected positive test results, according to data she presented at a news conference.

Data from the Colorado Department of Education shows there are 1,914 K-12 schools in the state.

Polis said the state wants more schools to enter the program in order to have “a significant impact” on reducing the spread of the virus in schools. The Denver Post reported last week that schools that have mask mandates have lower COVID-19 transmission rates, but officials said Tuesday they see the testing program as another way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within schools.

Aurora Public Schools said Monday in a note to district families that it would soon be participating in the weekly testing program along with CDPHE. For a full list of schools that are currently participating, click here.

However, Polis again Tuesday declined to say he would implement a mask requirement for schools statewide, saying that “schools are doing a great job ensuring they have a safe environment” and that for schools and districts that do not have mask requirements, the testing option was “a great alternative.”

Polis said the federally-funded school testing program could serve 10 times as many students and staff as it currently is.

He added that 18 kids under age 18 were currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 – 12 of whom are between 0 and 11 years old, and six of whom are between ages 12 and 17.

Out of 866 Coloradans currently hospitalized, 164, or 19% are vaccinated. Seventy-six percent of Coloradans are fully vaccinated, meaning the 702 unvaccinated people who are currently hospitalized are part of the 24% of Coloradans who are not vaccinated.

Polis said Colorado continues to have the sixth-lowest rate of COVID-19 cases across the country – which he said shows that vaccines work to mitigate the risk someone gets COVID-19, gets hospitalized due to the virus, and dies from it. Hospitalizations in the state remain on a plateau or slight decline, he said.

Travanty said the state has the capacity to test up to about 40,000 people per day between all the testing facilities and programs and that the state is currently averaging around 8,000 tests administered per day – only about 27% of its capacity. The average turnaround for test results is about two days, she said.

She said the state has shipped 70,024 BinaxNOW rapid at-home tests so far, with the backlog being about 7-14 days for delivery, as the CDPHE told Denver7 last Friday. Travanty said the state was working on making a queue for people who are interested in obtaining the tests, and Polis said the state was considering trying to divide up the eight-test kits into four-test kits to get more of them out to more people.

Regarding booster shots, Polis urged people who received the Pfizer vaccine earlier this year and who are at least six months out from their second shot to get the COVID-19 booster shot approved by the FDA and CDC last week.

He said as of Tuesday, 3.9% of adult Coloradans had gotten their third shot and that the number would rise about 4% by Wednesday.

The CDPHE on Monday extended a public health order that requires long-term care facilities in the state to schedule booster shot clinics by Oct. 1 that would run between now and Oct. 25 for those who are eligible for the Pfizer booster.