Colorado health officials turn people away from drive-thru COVID-19 testing as state struggles to meet demand

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Experts warn more tests are needed across the country to appropriately contain the COVID-19 pandemic. As Colorado waits for more testing kits from the federal government, health officials are concerned about meeting current and future needs for testing.

The demand outside the state laboratory in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood was so great Thursday, state officials were forced to turn people away.

In Colorado and across the country, the capability to test isn’t meeting the public demand. Other countries have made testing available on a larger scale, according to worldwide statistics and criteria for testing abroad.

On Thursday morning, there was a three-hour wait at the drive-thru testing line in Lowry. It all proved to be too much for the state health department to handle.

On Monday, 160 people were tested at the Lowry location. Test results should be available within 72 hours, according to the state.

Until evidence of community spread in the United States, testing criteria was very narrow. The criteria did not account for the majority of COVID-19 cases with mild symptoms suffered by people who hadn’t traveled abroad.

Colorado is still waiting on the federal government to come through with additional testing kits.

“We believe we have more test kits in transit,” said Scott Bookman, incident commander for Colorado’s COVID-19 response. “That being said, there are a number of different things that impact our ability to do testing.”

The “number of different things” includes swabbing and reagent kits — supplies Colorado must buy on the open market. Those items are separate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kits.

“Everything is starting to go on back order,” Bookman warned. “There is a great, great unmet need for testing in the United States.” 

German-based company Qiagen is one of many manufacturers working to supply testing materials to labs around the world, including to the CDC as well as state-run and private labs in the U.S.

Qiagen spokesperson Thomas Theuringer said Thursday there is a strong demand for RNA extraction kits which is one component of the COVID-19 tests. So far in 2020, Theuringer says Qiagen has doubled the number of shipments to the U.S. compared to all of 2019.

The state initially said it would give first testing priority on Friday for those turned away on Thursday. However, Thursday night, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the lab “will be operating with limited capacity on Friday.”

The lab will be open from noon until 2 p.m. Friday. The lab originally planned to be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“The first 100-150 vehicles in the queue will have access to the drive-up testing; all other vehicles that arrive after that will be encouraged to seek testing from a private provider. Always call ahead and speak with the health care facility in advance before going there for testing or treatment,” the CDPHE said.

Officials are considering expanding testing availability through the weekend, if adequate testing supplies can meet the demand.

A doctor’s order is needed for testing. Colorado has been told 1,500 additional kits are en route from the CDC. The state hasn’t said when it expects those kits to arrive.

The Lowry testing location is located at 8100 Lowry Blvd., Denver.

The CDPHE is working to open additional mobile testing sites across the state focusing first in the mountains. There is no timeline for when those sites will open.

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