County to offer 2 drive-through community testing events for COVID-19 this week
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With new testing capabilities at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Monday’s announcement that two community drive-through testing events will be held this week, the number of people who can get tested for COVID-19 appears to be increasing.
The county will host the drive-through testing events — aimed at anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms who registers ahead of time — from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, and Saturday, April 18, at the Howelsen Hill parking lot.
Those wishing to get tested will need to call 970-870-5577 for an over-the-phone screening and to set up an appointment. The primary symptoms required for testing include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, lack of appetite and/or body aches.
The increased testing supplies come from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as testing components purchased directly by the county from commercial sources.
“With our increased access to testing kits, we decided to set up a community testing day by appointment to meet demand,” Routt County Public Health Director Kari Ladrow said in a news release.
Four public health nurses hope to test 100 people during each testing day.
“We understand the desire of many community members to be tested, and we are doing everything possible to get access to test kits, like every county in Colorado and every state in the Union,” Ladrow added.
On Saturday, the county had conducted 385 tests with 36 positive results, including seven probable positives determined through contact tracing. By Sunday, officials reported a total of 506 tests. There were seven new positives reported on Sunday for a county-wide total of 43, but that was out of 121 new tests administered — a drastically larger one-day number than the county has seen thus far.
Of the 506 tests, close to 200 were administered at Casey’s Pond alone.
On Saturday, officials with the senior living facility in Steamboat Springs announced one new positive result in a staff member who was asymptomatic. On Sunday, there were positive results from an additional three residents, none of whom were showing symptoms as of Sunday. That brings the total to eight residents and six staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Casey’s Pond.
What: Drive-through community testing
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, and Saturday, April 18
Where: Howelsen Hill parking lot
How: Get screened first by calling 970-870-5577 . For a Wednesday appointment, call between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 14. For a Saturday appointment, call between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16.
Resources also are being focused on other vulnerable communities in the county, including The Haven senior living facility in Hayden and Horizons Specialized Services, according to Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington.
As of Wednesday, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center is now able to conduct tests locally, which can produce results in as little as 15 minutes. Prior to that, tests were sent to UCHealth labs in Denver. And prior to that, all tests had to go to the state lab, where turnaround results were taking as long as seven to 10 days.
At YVMC, Manager of Laboratory Services James Wirta said the hospital is able to use the same platform they use to test for influenza. Like the flu, the test identifies whether a nasal or throat sample has the COVID-19 “fingerprint” or viral RNA sequence.
The process involves a number of different commercial companies and specialized reagent material, of which YVMC has been able to get an allotment from UCHealth.
Wirta wasn’t able to give specific numbers on how many test kits the hospital currently has, but he said the lab has “enough.”
Being able to get the results quickly is huge for the clinicians, in that they can immediately provide appropriate care for patients, Wirta said.
And he said UCHealth is also working on the next step in testing — the antibody or serology test, which will show whether or not people have been exposed to the virus. Harrington said public health officials also are working on bringing antibody testing to the county, and that is a key priority, though right now tests haven’t been fully vetted, and vendors are still in early phases of FDA approval.
Harrington said the hospital has been an integral partner in increasing local testing capacity. And while for now the drive-through testing is only a two-day event, Harrington said county health officials are continuing to expand capacity and loosen criteria for testing as supplies allow. They will continue to partner with UCHealth to collect specimens at their existing mobile site, he said.
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic, he said, including the limited number of COVID-19 hospitalizations — he could not say exactly how many — and the relatively low number of positive cases.
The results from the testing on Wednesday and Saturday should provide valuable information from a different sampling population and potential insight into the disease burden in the community. The county’s symptom tracker is another way for residents to informally report potential COVID-19 symptoms.
“Our efforts in the past weeks are paying off,” Harrington said, of the social distancing and public health orders. “But we are not at a point where we can say we are over the hump.”
While some models have Colorado peaking this week, the state’s model for peak has now been pushed to May.
Pulling back restrictions continues to be an ongoing conversation, he said.
“People need to maintain all the disease prevention measures,” Harrington said. “We are going to be in this mode well into May. It will be great when we can start dialing back restrictions, but we are not there yet. It would be very dangerous for us to prematurely lift restrictions. We do not have the resources in place, such as testing capacity, if we were to get another surge.
“We will probably need to maintain some kind of restrictions until there is medicine or a vaccine,” Harrington added.
More information about what to expect at this week’s drive-thru testing station can be found at covid19routtcounty.com.
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