Frustrations rise over few coronavirus testing options in Colorado

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DENVER (KDVR) — Nearly two weeks after Colorado’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, it’s still nearly impossible to get tested for the coronavirus. And that’s even true for patients who have the mandatory note from a doctor.

Edward Russ, 39, of Commerce City told FOX31 he has been trying to get tested since Friday, March 13, when he went to see his doctor about a low-grade fever, cough and body aches.

“I have been on the phone since Monday calling random numbers calling my health care provider and I did it again today and I’m just not getting any answers,” said Russ.

Russ said his flu test came back negative and his doctor wrote him a note to be tested for the coronavirus, but the only suggestion the doctor had was the mobile testing site at the Denver Coliseum last Saturday, which shut down early because of long lines.

State leaders now brag about a new website but when you click on “How to Get Tested,” the webpage doesn’t provide a list of where to get tested. Instead, the website says, “Ask your provider about private lab sites where you can get tested.”

But FOX31 has learned there are no private labs performing test swabs in Colorado. A spokeswoman from Quest Diagnostics told Investigative Reporter Rob Low that patients need to find a local doctor or nurse practitioner who has a test kit and is trained on administering it, who will then send it either to the state lab or a private lab like Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp.

“I just want to know if I’m positive or negative so I can get back to work,” said Russ.

Test results now often take up to five days but Russ has spent the last five days just trying to get tested.

The state lab can only process about 250 tests a day, a fraction of what Gov. Jared Polis knows is needed.

“We are expanding testing as rapidly as we can,” said Polis.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Polis said he hoped to have expanded test capabilities soon but wasn’t sure if that meant days or weeks. He acknowledged that it’s an “absolutely critical, big difference between 24-hour diagnosis and a five-day diagnosis.”

As the governor pointed out, a negative test result preserves a limited supply of personal protection equipment likes face masks and gowns that doctors would know to use only on patients who test positive.

“If the patient doesn’t have it, you no longer need to take all those same precautions and there can be protocols that don’t waste limited supplies,” said Polis.

The governor blames the lag of testing on limited supplies and the lack of trained medical professionals who know how to administer the tests.

Last week, the CEO of AYTU BioScience in Englewood told FOX31 his company can get test results in two to 10 minutes using the same rapid tests that China used to address its outbreak.

“It’s being readily used in China, was developed in China using specific antibodies from COVID-19,” said Josh Disbrow, CEO of AYTU BioScience.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted waivers to states who are willing to use non-FDA approved COVID-19 tests but Colorado hasn’t signed off yet.

When FOX31 mentioned to Polis the possibility of allowing AYTU BioScience to import rapid tests from its Chinese manufacturing partner, he expressed interest immediately.

“If you would connect us, we would be happy to take a 100,000 test kits and deploy those as quickly as possible,” Polis said.

Russ said he doesn’t want to go the emergency room and possibly infect others but said he’s running out of options if his symptoms don’t improve.

A spokeswoman for Quest Diagnostics told FOX31 it hopes to be able to run 10,000 tests a day by the end of next week and 20,000 tests a day by the end of the month. But that’s a nationwide figure and many states like Colorado could use 10,000 tests a day just for its residents.

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