Why do some counties test so much less than others?


FILE – In this Sept. 19, 2020 file photo, a doctor takes a nasal swab sample to test for COVID-19 at the Cocodrilos Sports Park in Caracas, Venezuela. PAHO, the regional office for the World Health Organization in the Americas, said the week of Jan. 22 2021 that only 3,000, or about 1%, of the 340,000 COVID antigen testing kits sent to the country have been used. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

DENVER (KDVR) — Statistically, Colorado’s COVID-19 testing is inconsistent across its counties, and none of the favorite boogeymen explain the disparity.

“Testing deserts” are particular areas where residents are being tested for COVID-19 at a much lower rate than neighboring areas. Typically, low-income rural and urban areas are more prone to becoming testing deserts. Nationally, 20% of rural counties have no testing sites according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Colorado, many counties have lower-than-average testing rates, but none of the data speaks of a reason why.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tracks how many of each Colorado county’s residents are tested for COVID-19 on its website.

On average, each county’s testing sites perform 100,288 tests per every 100,000 residents.

Some test far more or less. Crowley County tests 413,000 per 100,000 residents, while Hinsdale County only tests 22,000 per 100,000. Population factors like money and demography may have slight relationships, but do not largely explain why some counties test so much more or less than others.

Whatever is to blame, it isn’t unequal wealth.

This chart compares all 64 Colorado counties by their rate of testing per 100,000 and their median household income.

There is no pattern or connection. The counties with the lowest rates of testing per 100,000 often have a higher median household income than those with the largest, and vice versa.

Race isn’t to blame, either. A similar theme goes for counties with high concentrations of persons of color. The lowest-tested counties are not the highest concentrations of non-white residents and vice versa.

The average percentage of non-white residents for the top three quartiles of testing rate was 73%. The bottom was 76% – a small enough separation to make little difference.

Rural counties sometimes have distribution issues, and national news outlets have reported that these areas have become testing deserts. That hasn’t been the case with testing in Colorado. Just like with income and race, there is little to no pattern or connection between a county’s population density and its testing rate.

Similarly, the direct size of the county’s population doesn’t explain testing differences either.

Like the others, a graph of testing per 100,000 vs. the population is almost a mirror image. There are no differences in population size between those counties testing low or high rates.

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