COVID Testing in Colorado: Either Not Enough Supply or Too Much

Demand for BinaxNow test kits to use at home currently exceeds supply.
Demand for BinaxNow test kits to use at home currently exceeds supply. Courtesy of Denver7
Governor Jared Polis's September 28 press conference about the ongoing battle against COVID-19 in Colorado focused on testing for the disease — and the contrast between two parts of that project is striking.

Polis conceded that demand is outstripping supply for BinaxNow home-test kits, which the state has offered to send to the residence of any Coloradan who wants them. The turnaround time was originally estimated at a couple of days, but they're currently taking between one and two weeks to reach their destination.

In contrast, Polis admitted that the state has enough capacity to handle ten times more students than the current amount being tested. However, the number of institutions that have signed up to participate has been lower than hoped, resulting in those particular kits lingering on shelves — and because they haven't been approved for at-home use, they can't simply be redirected to those waiting longer than promised for the ones they've ordered.

Meanwhile, the state positivity rate for COVID-19 as measured by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is 7.24 percent — well above the 5 percent standard experts see as an indication that not enough testing for the virus on a community basis is being done.

At the outset, Polis offered a blizzard of additional data. For starters, the state registered 1,867 new COVID cases today — a number that suggests a plateau, albeit at a higher level than anyone would like. But the situation is worse elsewhere: At present, Colorado has the sixth-lowest per capita rate of the disease among American states.

Of the 866 people hospitalized in Colorado with COVID symptoms now, Polis continued, only 164 are vaccinated, while the other 702 haven't rolled up their sleeves. Additionally, eighteen children have been admitted to a medical facility: Twelve are age eleven or younger, and six are between twelve and seventeen. But he stressed that pediatric hospital capacity is nowhere close to being exceeded.

After encouraging front-line workers and those ages 65 and older who received their first immunization at least six months ago to get a booster shot recently approved by the federal government, Polis talked about the state's testing capability. Back in March 2020, during the pandemic's earliest days, Colorado could only test around 160 people every day; now that number has grown to nearly 40,000. Yet Polis's guest, Dr. Emily Travanty, the scientific director in the CDPHE's laboratory services division, revealed that the state is only using about 27 percent of its capacity statewide. During the average week, about 60,000 tests are being conducted.

The situation is very different for the BinaxNow home-testing kits. According to Travanty, 70,024 have been shipped so far, but far more are wanted and needed; Colorado officials are in contact with the manufacturer to see if more can be made available and how quickly. Still, Polis said he was thrilled by the interest, which he would like to see duplicated at schools.

In a Q&A, Polis was asked about the Otero County commissioners signing a resolution opposing the state's vaccination and mask mandates for health-care workers — an example of pushback from rural medical providers, who fear that some overworked staffers will quit their jobs rather than get jabbed. He suggested that such individuals are turning their ire on the wrong parties, since they could lose Medicare and Medicaid funding if they refuse to cooperate with the federal rules. The rural health-care professionals from whom his office has been hearing are overjoyed that their laggard colleagues will either have to be vaccinated or they'll "be gone," he added, characterizing the reaction as "a collective sigh of relief."

The testing scenario has not yet prompted a similar sound.
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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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