COVID-19 tests coveted for most severe cases in Aspen, Pitkin County
As the public clamors for more testing of COVID-19, limited capacity for the kits and processing the tests remain an issue in Pitkin County, throughout the state and the rest of the country.
The Pitkin County Public Health Department did two days of specimen collection off-site locations March 13 and 14. The 23 samples were sent to the state lab for testing.
Local health officials said at the time that there were resource constraints, while also emphasizing testing doesn’t constitute treatment anyway.
That is the same situation as of Saturday.
“We want expanded capabilities for the nation, the state and our communities,” said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, adding he hopes local options roll out soon. But for the time being, “I cannot stress enough that the best thing we can be doing is social distancing.“
Based on epidemiology data, public health officials presume the novel coronavirus is widespread in the community.
Sans testing, officials urge people who have symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home for seven to 14 days.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist, said last week that those who are experiencing symptoms to self isolate for seven days.
Those who feel they have been in contact with individuals who have the virus are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days. In both instances, Herlihy said no one should leave their house until they do not have a fever for 72 consecutive hours.
Those who have severe symptoms and are in the vulnerable population of being elderly, or have health issues like compromised immune systems, are asked to call their physician first or the county’s incident management team’s hotline at 970-429-6186 where they will be prescreened.
Dave Ressler, the chief executive officer at Aspen Valley Hospital, said during a media briefing March 13 that the goal is to keep AVH open for patients who need medical care for serious cases of COVID-19 and other health emergencies.
“We are moving into a different phase where we’re trying to control what we know already exists in our community,” he said. “As a hospital, we expect that we are going to see patients now that we know that the virus is here, presenting to us for care, so that is our highest priority is to make sure that we are in a state of readiness and prepared to provide the services that these patients need.”
He added that testing was never intended to be a treatment of the virus’ symptoms.
“It doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose to continue that testing considering that there are limited resources,” he said March 13.
Public health officials have repeatedly said in the past week that they are moving toward increasing testing capacity.
Scott Bookman, the state’s public health incident commander for COVID-19, said Thursday that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with health care partners, were able to process more than 500 tests the day before.
When the virus first spread through the ski resorts in Colorado, the CDPHE had the capacity to process 160 tests.
“We certainly understand that there is very much an interest in having testing widely available and that is really why we are trying to work with our health care systems across the state to figure out strategies to make that testing available to people,” Herlihy said during a media briefing last week.
She added that public health officials are trying to be strategic and judicious on how they test people in Colorado.
“We are prioritizing certain testing at our state public health lab to really help us understand where transmission is occurring in the state and how much transmission is occurring,” she said. “So that is certainly a priority of ours; we are working on getting data from communities where we have not had widespread testing available.”
Herlihy added that individuals who have respiratory symptoms don’t all need to be tested.
“We know that there are certain groups of people that should be prioritized for testing and that’s really where we feel those testing resources should be used right now,” she said. “So that’s going to be people who have chronic medical conditions, people over the age of 60, health care workers, and then certainly responding to outbreaks.”
Testing was done in Telluride last week, with the assistance of the National Guard.
Soon after, San Miguel County announced a partnership with a private company that will offer free blood tests to all residents beginning this week.
The tests, which are different than the COVID-19 one, will be used to evaluate who in the county population has been exposed, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.