COVID-19 Drive-Up Testing Lab Overwhelmed

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lab at 8100 East Lowry Boulevard.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lab at 8100 East Lowry Boulevard. Google Maps
During a March 11 press conference about Colorado's efforts to fight the COVID-19 virus, Governor Jared Polis touted a newly opened drive-up lab at 8100 East Lowry Boulevard, where individuals who met a designated criteria (specifically, a doctor's order and a photo ID with a matching name) could be tested for free. But on March 12, the lab's second day of operation, the volume of individuals wanting to be tested overwhelmed the facility, necessitating the closure of the line where cars were waiting and a promise to develop a new procedure to figure out at what point to cut off cars in the future.

The lab's schedule for this week is tight; it's open on weekdays for just four hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On day one, Polis said that 160 people were tested over that span, and while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will not release numbers for today until later, a release announcing that no more cars were allowed in line makes it clear that there's a great deal of interest in the service.

How much? On March 11, the average wait time was calculated at 84 minutes, not counting an additional ten minutes for the test itself — a swab from an individual's nose and throat. At 11 a.m. today, the wait time was estimated at three hours.

"Due to an extremely high volume of people seeking COVID-19 tests at the drive-up testing site in Lowry, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is working to establish and communicate a cut-off point for the line," the announcement states. "CDPHE is currently determining, based on resources and staff capacity, which vehicle will be the last vehicle whose occupants can be served today. Those who are already in line behind that cut off-point will receive a note that allows them priority for testing in line tomorrow."

The CDPHE announcement continues: "Colorado now has capacity for private labs to complete testing. In order to minimize wait times, anyone who is symptomatic or who believes they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should call or email your physician first for guidance, a doctor’s order for testing, and information about private providers where you can get tested. Always call first before reporting to a healthcare facility for testing."

The lab will be open again on March 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and those who were in line today will be given priority. The operation is expected to be up and running on Monday, too, and the CDPHE notes that the lab may also be available over the weekend "depending on supplies and demand."

There's certainly plenty of the latter.

Those who are tested can expect their results in 72 hours.

Shortly after the CDPHE sent out that announcement, it held a press call to discuss the situation. “This morning we had a major influx of people,” Scott Bookman, director of the state’s public health laboratory, told reporters. “There were hundreds and hundreds of cars lined up to the point that it was going to become a safety hazard, given that it was blocking traffic.

“We’re continuing to encourage people to talk to their providers, to seek testing through some of the private companies, such as LabCorp, that are currently doing testing, to ensure that everybody who needs testing gets it, but making sure that we’re not overloading the state lab.”

Unlike their counterparts in some other states, CDPHE officials are not yet recommending widespread closures of schools, ski resorts or other public spaces, but Bookman said that is subject to change.

"We continue to evaluate this rapidly evolving situation. We will not hesitate to advise the governor to take strong action to protect public health, if that includes limiting mass gatherings. At this point we have not made that decision," he said.

“Our goal is to catch areas where there is a high level of community transmission, and be able to take actions at a local level to mitigate spread," he added. "That will allow us to avoid having to take larger, more drastic actions across the state."

The community that seems hardest hit in Colorado is Eagle County; all four new presumptive positive cases in the state announced late on March 12 were in Eagle County. That brings the total number of presumptive positive in the state to date to 49; the state lab has completed test results on more than 400 people in Colorado since testing started on February 28.

For more information on the mobile lab and other measures to fight the epidemic, visit the CDPHE's coronavirus page.

Update: This story has been updated to include information from the 2 p.m. press call, as well as the latest statistics on cases.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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