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'We are doing everything we can': Lack of widespread testing will affect how fast Colorado reopens

“The governor is very clear that the state will not reopen until he has the capacity to make everyone safe."

DENVER, Colorado — Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials have made it clear that without testing infrastructure and actual COVID-19 tests, the state “won’t be able to implement our testing strategy, which is one of those foundational elements of reopening.”

Colorado’s statewide stay-home order is tentatively set to expire on April 26.

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On a call with reporters on Thursday, Colorado’s COVID-19 Incident Commander, Scott Bookman, said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) goal is to have a testing site in every county. 

CDPHE is working with county health departments and other healthcare partners to make that happen. But the state still lacks COVID-19 tests.

“We are doing everything we can, working with our federal partners. And the private sector within the state within the country and internationally to gain all of the equipment and consumables we will need to do mass testing across the state. That is really a key pillar to our ability to move into our new normal,” said Bookman.

CDPHE did not respond to a request Thursday afternoon regarding how many tests are needed or when they might be coming. But 9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli says the state will need to consider more than just the amount of tests it gets.

She says tests that provide results in minutes or hours, not days, will play an important part in isolating sick people and preventing spread. Also, Colorado will need serology tests to determine if people have been carrying the virus asymptomatically. Plasma transfusions may help the critically ill recover.

“Since we're testing only a very small piece of the pie. We really don't know what the entire pie looks. And therefore, we really can't relax our social distancing measures,” said Kohli.

It will be largely up to counties to set up the infrastructure to test as many people as possible and it will be up to the state to get the supplies. Not just tests, but badly needed personal protection equipment, or PPE, which will be desperately needed to safely test as many Coloradans as possible.

There’s a shortage of PPE too as the stay-home order, which could always be extended, nears it’s tentative end.

“The governor is very clear that the state will not reopen until he has the capacity to make everyone safe, said Bookman.

The next, important step will be contact tracing which could drastically reduce the virus' spread. 

While some countries have implemented smartphone technology to do contact tracing, privacy concerns in the U.S. has state governments relying on epidemiologists to manually track an infected person's past, individually notifying those who may have come in contact with an infected person, and asking them to quarantine.

That will likely require hundreds, if not thousands of contact tracers according to a Johns Hopkins report. CDPHE said it's hiring for those positions. 

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