Getting Tested for COVID Now Can Be a Lonely Experience

A sign marking the COVID-19 vaccination site at Southwest Plaza.
A sign marking the COVID-19 vaccination site at Southwest Plaza. Photo by Michael Roberts
Does anyone go to community sites for COVID-19 testing anymore? I put that question to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment technician assigned to the testing location at Southwest Plaza, in southern Jefferson County, when I arrived on the morning of April 7, upon discovering that the queue waiting to be swabbed consisted

"Not so much," he responded cheerfully, like a man on a deserted island who'd finally flagged down a passing ship. "We're winding down."

What a difference a couple of years make. Back in July 2020, our post "COVID-19: How Pepsi Center Testing Went From a Breeze to a Marathon" noted that the testing site at the venue (now known as Ball Arena) had been shut down shortly after noon on July 7 owing to a combination of factors, including supply shortages and high demand. Indeed, the line of cars was so long that day that it snaked through the entire parking lot onto Auraria Parkway, causing a traffic nightmare. My wife and I had joined that line just under the wire, at 11:30 a.m., and the entire process took ninety minutes, in temperatures so blazing that we had to turn the heater on full blast to prevent our engine from exploding.

The situation was similarly chaotic that November, when a newly opened testing site in Jefferson County  was quickly overwhelmed and had to shut down way ahead of schedule — a situation that prompted the Westword headline "COVID-19 Testing Waits Starting to Look like In-N-Out Lines."

Not anymore. The wide availability of free rapid tests has resulted in far fewer people utilizing community testing sites — and since the CDPHE doesn't count cases unless they've been confirmed by a PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, the test of the sort used at such centers, it's become increasingly unclear how many Coloradans are actually infected.

I've been using rapid tests for many months, like so many others. But after spending hours over the weekend of April 2-3 with someone who subsequently scored positives on two rapids and a PCR, I decided to sign up for a more accurate analysis a few days later. I chose the Southwest Plaza site because it's closest to my home, and picking a time slot online was a snap, since every single one of them for April 7 was open.

The testing process could not have been easier. At my appointed time, I pulled up to the stop sign in front of the small shed serving as the headquarters for the two technicians on site — one who checked my information and scanned the bar code on the confirmation page I'd accessed using my cell phone, the other who did the swabbing without scraping my brain, as was commonplace back in the day. If the entire process took more than three minutes, I'd be surprised.

I hung around outside the site for a while longer to see if anybody else arrived, and someone actually did. Even behind their masks, the technicians seemed happy. And in contrast to the periods during year one of the pandemic, when test results took a week or more to come back, making them essentially useless, the turnaround time for my findings was just over 24 hours. I notched a negative.

The CDPHE announced last week that it's shutting down forty community testing sites by the end of April as part of what Governor Jared Polis's administration has dubbed "Colorado's Next Chapter: Our Roadmap to Moving Forward." During the state's effort to transition community testing to what's described as "traditional healthcare settings and federal programs," eighty others will remain open...for now. Those eighty sites are capable of processing 26,000 tests a day, but current demand is estimated at 2,500.

One of the forty sites designated for closure (Timberline Church in Fort Collins) actually shut down on April 8, while another one (Granby's Inn at Silvercreek) will close up shop on April 14. Here are the other 38 slated to end operations by April 30 — and yes, the Southwest Plaza site is among them.

16th St Mall (1600 California Street Suite 1, Denver, CO 80202)

5th Street Garage — Auraria Campus (955 Lawrence Way Denver, CO 80204)

AIMS Community College (5401 20th St, Greeley, CO 80634)

Aspen Airport Cell Lot (233 Airport Rd, Aspen, CO 81611)

Aurora Center for Active Adults - Del Mar (30 West Del Mar Circle, Aurora, CO 80011)

Buena Vista Community Center (715 E Main Street, Buena Vista, CO 81211)

Clear Creek Valley Park (3700 W 58th Pl., Arvada, CO 80002)

Colorado Mountain College-Edwards (150 Miller Ranch Rd, Edwards, CO 81632)

Rio Grande Social Services (1015 6th St., Del Norte, CO 81132)

Eastman Park (7025 Eastman Park Dr, Windsor, CO 80550)

Echo Park Stadium - Doug Co Parker (11901 Newlin Gulch Blvd., Parker, CO 80134)

Fairplay Community Center (880 Bogue St, Fairplay, CO 80440)

Fort Garland Community Center (17523 US-160, Blanca, CO 81123)

Fraser Historic Church (107 Eisenhower Dr Fraser, CO 80468)

Fruita 8/9 School (1835 J Rd., Fruita, CO 81521)

Georgetown (1198 Argentine St. Georgetown, CO 80444)

Glenwood Springs Community Center (100 Wulfsohn Rd, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601)

Jefferson County Fairgrounds (15200 W. 6th Ave. Frontage Rd., Golden, CO 80401)

Kunsmiller Creative Arts (2250 S Quitman St. Denver, CO 80219)

La Veta Fire Protection District (100 Birch St, La Veta, CO 81055)

Lakewood at South Kipling (260 S. Kipling St., Lakewood, CO 80226)

Lamar Community Building (610 S 6th St, Lamar, CO 81052)

Lincoln County Public Health (326 8th St, Hugo, CO 80821)

Littleton Southwest Plaza (8501 W Bowles Ave, Littleton, CO 80123)

Mission Medical (2125 E LaSalle St., Colorado Springs, CO 80909)

Monte Vista — Chapman Park (300-398 W Prospect Ave, Monte Vista, CO 81144)

Montessori School of Evergreen (6989 County Hwy 73, Evergreen, CO 80439)

Mountain Family Health Center (195 14th Street, Rifle, CO 81650)

Nederland Community Center (750 Highway 72 N. Nederland, CO 80466)

Our Lady Mother of the Church (6690 E 72nd Ave, Commerce City, CO 80022)

Peach Tree Shopping (3225 I-70BL, Clifton CO 81520)

Red Rocks Community College (5444 Miller St Arvada, CO 80002)

Rocky Ford Public Safety Building (300 S Main St, Rocky Ford, CO 81067)

Rocky Mountain Prep (3752 Tennyson Street Denver, CO 80212)

Silverthorne Recreation Center (430 Rainbow Dr, Silverthorne, CO 80498)

Sky Ridge Campus - Lone Tree (10101 Ridgegate Pkwy, Lone Tree, CO 80124)

Snowmass Village Town Hall- (130 Kearns Rd, Snowmass Village, CO)

Water World (8801 Pecos St, Federal Heights, CO 80260)
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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