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Colorado health officials say they can now test people for coronavirus on their own

State Lab can test up to 160 samples per day, CDPHE says
Posted at 10:29 AM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 12:29:02-05

DENVER – The Colorado Department of Public Health announced Monday it now has the capability of testing up to 160 samples per day for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on its own and receiving results back within 24 hours.

The CDPHE’s State Laboratory’s ability to do the tests on its own allows the state to respond faster to possible cases of the virus, state health officials said. All previous testing had to be done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

The CDPHE says the lab, at its current staffing and resource levels, has the potential to test up to 160 samples each day as long as CDC test kits remain available and that those test results could be turned around within 24 hours of their being received by the lab.

There are zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado currently, though more tests are underway, according to the CDPHE. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news conference Monday afternoon that 23 people had been tested for the virus in Colorado and that all tests came back negative. He said nine tests were still pending.

The test will not be available to the general public – only for people who meet criteria of being symptomatic for the virus.

The CDPHE said that there are three circumstances under which a patient could be tested:

· The person has a fever or symptoms of a lower respiratory illness and has been in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 within 14 days of them becoming symptomatic.
· The person has a fever and symptoms of a lower respiratory illness and has recently traveled to a place or places where infection rates are high. (This differs slightly from CDC guidance, as Colorado says it currently has the capacity to test patients who are not hospitalized to help try to identify people with less severe disease.)
· The person has a fever, severe lower respiratory illness that required hospitalization and influenza and other diagnoses have been ruled out.

The state said that medical providers who suspect a patient might have COVID-19 should contact the state or local public health department to get instructions on testing. If testing is warranted, the CDPHE said, that provider will gather specimens from the patient’s throat and nose and send them to the state lab.

“Being able to confirm or rule out cases of COVID-19 at the state level allows us to be more nimble in responding to and controlling this disease if it occurs in Colorado,” said State Lab Director Scott Bookman. “The time frame for testing cases should be quicker than ever.”

Washington state health officials announced Monday that six people had now died from the virus in the state as researchers postulate the virus may have been circulating there for weeks.

Hancock and other city officials provided an update on the city’s preparation efforts in a news conference at 4 p.m. Monday.

Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver health officials discuss city's coronavirus preparedness

Hancock said that a Denver task force was taking extra steps to try to battle a possible outbreak, including increasing the number of sanitation stations in public areas, and said that Denver would be prepared should an outbreak hit. Denver International Airport will also add more sanitation stations and increase the frequency by which public areas and restrooms are being cleaned.

The airport said in addition to the extra cleaning, which will include installing sanitary stations on jet bridges, free hand sanitizer throughout the airport, and increased disinfection efforts, it would be doing drills on possible responses.

"We are actively monitoring and assessing the potential impacts of the coronavirus and working closely with our local and federal partners and our airlines to reduce the risk to our passengers," DIA CEO Kim Day said in a statement. "While we are providing hygiene assistance for our passengers, we strongly urge everyone to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, including normal best practices to prevent the spread of germs."

Hancock said he, other city officials across the state, the congressional delegation and governor were all on a conference call earlier Monday to discuss preparations at the federal, state and local levels and that all supported adding at least $2.8 billion in response funding from Congress, though he said some people felt that would not be enough.

“I want to emphasize that the city stands ready and is prepared to respond should we experience cases of this virus,” Hancock said. “But nothing is more powerful than each of us doing what we can to stay healthy, and if not, remain at home.”

Denver Tourism officials said they are in communication with many of the major vendors, hotels and convention centers regarding tourism events in Denver after the American Physical Society canceled its event that was planned for this week over the weekend.

Denver health officials said personal hygiene was most important to combatting a possible outbreak and urged people to wash their hands, not touch their face, and to immediately refrain from going to work if they fall ill — saying soap and water would be the most important thing for people.

Hancock said there is a contingency fund set up in the event the costs outrun what is budgeted but that the city hoped they wouldn't have to dip into it.