Aspen kiosk gone, but free COVID testing site still planned
Aspen Valley Hospital officials have taken the lead in establishing a free testing site in Aspen and plan to expand the hours of a site that opened last week in Basalt, the hospital’s CEO said Thursday.
In addition, a local charity set up to help residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has volunteered to pay 50% of the costs of running three free testing sites in Pitkin County after Dec. 30 when federal funding for the effort runs out, said Jon Peacock, county manager.
“There’s a lot going on to increase our testing capacity in Pitkin County right now,” Peacock told members of the county Board of Health on Thursday.
The free testing sites won’t require a doctor’s prescription but will require mild COVID symptoms to be present in those being tested, he said. And while Aspen Mayor Torre strongly advocated Thursday for community-wide testing of asymptomatic residents, Peacock said there are no current plans to start such a testing regimen.
Once testing capacity is built-up, officials plan to test asymptomatic people in high-risk sectors, and other asymptomatic testing could be possible, he said.
The testing site in Basalt, at AVH’s primary care facility at 1460 E. Valley Road, opened last week in the building’s parking lot and has been triple-booking people in the mornings in order to meet the demand, said Dave Ressler, hospital CEO. The facility has been doing about 30 tests a day, he said.
However, the schedule will go to all day, five days a week starting Monday, he said.
“We got more demand than we could accommodate,” Ressler said.
Go to AVH’s main website and follow directions to make an appointment to take a test at Aspen Valley Primary Care in Basalt.
Meanwhile, a kiosk promised to Aspen as the site of a similar free testing site in town has been reassigned to a location on the Front Range, Peacock said. Instead, county officials have asked Ressler to replicate the Basalt model in Aspen but on a larger scale, Ressler said.
AVH is working with city of Aspen officials to find a site, which still could be the alley behind City Hall, according to Peacock and Ressler.
The hospital needs to hire staff and figure out the logistics of the site and would like to have the Aspen site up and running by Nov. 23, he said.
AVH staff would collect samples from those being tested at the sites in Aspen, Basalt and another during high season in Snowmass Village, while a Denver-based nonprofit will run them, Peacock said.
That company — Covid Check Colorado — bundles a slate of services including contracts with labs, scheduling appointments, reporting lab results to patients and insurance billing, he said. The county is negotiating with the company to run the Aspen and Snowmass Village sites through Dec. 30.
The county has received 3,000 tests through the state from a company called Curative, which relies on a swab test sent to labs for analysis. County officials have ordered another 11,000 Curative tests from the state, which is paying $125 a test through a contract with Curative that runs out with CARES Act funding Dec. 30. They’ve also ordered 7,000 tests from another company called Binax, which provide results in 15 minutes but are not as accurate as the Curative tests and require more protective gear to gather samples.
The Curative tests for Aspen are costing the state about $1.8 million, Peacock said.
The county and municipalities in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley will be on the hook to pay for the testing in 2021, which is estimated to cost $800,000 a year at the two year-round sites in Aspen and Basalt and the high season site in Snowmass Village, he said. Covid Check Colorado could run all three sites after Dec. 30 depending on if a contract is worked out.
The 2020 Rescue Fund, established by a group of Aspen locals to help fellow residents affected by the pandemic, has offered to match the county’s investment in the testing sites “dollar-for-dollar,” Peacock said. The budget will be talked about next week at the regular weekly work session of the board of county commissioners, he said.
Peacock said Aspen and Pitkin County will able to accommodate a ski season population of between 40,000 and 45,000 with the beefed up testing capacity.
Clark’s Pharmacy in Aspen is offering $99 COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic people, said Dr. Kim Levin, the health board’s medical officer. Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village will soon start offering the tests, she said. Clark’s “has plenty of tests,” she said, and takes walk-ins for testing.
Aspen Valley Hospital also provides COVID-19 testing for free with a doctor’s prescription. Asymptomatic residents who need a test for travel or other purposes can get one at the hospital for free, Ressler has said.
The testing at the Aspen School District so far has turned up one positive asymptomatic adult and one asymptomatic Aspen Middle School student, said Dr. Jeannie Seybold, a member of the health board instrumental in setting up the school testing.
The district tested 333 students and 190 staff last week and 606 students and staff this week, she said. This week’s results are just starting to come in, Seybold said.
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Officials are investigating the source of a loud explosion at Smuggler Mine on Saturday morning.