Pitkin County starting to receive thousands of tests from Colorado public health department
Pitkin County has requested thousands of COVID-19 tests from the state public health department and received 3,000 so far, County Manager Jon Peacock said Tuesday.
And that is likely a good thing because the county’s virus numbers — and specifically the population-based incidence rate — continued to grow Tuesday and inch residents closer to more stringent restrictions on business and life in general. Public health officials will host a town hall Thursday at 10 a.m. for the business community to explain what those new restrictions might look like, he said.
“We need to look at November as an opportunity to stay home, work from home as much as possible and see if we can get the numbers down before winter,” Peacock told commissioners during their regular weekly work session.
The 3,000 Curative tests already received from the state are being used at Aspen Valley Hospital’s primary care facility in Basalt, which takes reservations from residents who do not have or cannot afford a doctor, he said.
In addition, Pitkin County has ordered another 11,000 Curative tests from the state and 7,000 tests from another company called Binax, Peacock said. Those tests are being paid for by the state public health department through federal CARES Act money and must be used by Dec. 30. The Curative tests cost more than $1.6 million, Peacock said.
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Those tests were recently and abruptly made available by the state, Peacock said. Until 10 days ago, the Curative tests were distributed by the state on a per capita basis and were to be used only for underserved and uninsured populations. Pitkin County initially received 1,000 tests for that population before the state realized it had a surplus and loosened the requirements for obtaining the tests, he said.
The Aspen School District received the Curative tests for its student and staff testing program just as the state changed those requirements, Peacock has said.
A testing program for Aspen and Snowmass Village this winter also continues to come into focus.
Pitkin County and Aspen Valley Hospital remain in negotiations with the Denver-based nonprofit Covid Colorado Check to run free virus testing sites in Aspen and Snowmass Village that won’t require doctor’s prescriptions, he said. After Dec. 30, the company also would run the Basalt site in a different location.
Covid Colorado Check will work with a number of different labs to process the results of the Curative tests, Peacock said. The Binax tests — which use a nasal swab collected under the supervision of a medical professional — offer quick results in the same place where the test is taken, but also provide higher false positives and negatives, he said.
More information about the costs of running those sites when federal and state money runs out Dec. 30 — previously estimated at between $800,000 and $850,000 — and how it might be spread among Upper Roaring Fork Valley communities will be coming in the near future, Peacock told commissioners Tuesday.
COVID-19 testing with a doctor’s prescription is still being done free of charge at Aspen Valley Hospital.
The county also remains in line for a kiosk from the state that will serve as the Aspen testing site and may end up in the alley behind City Hall. State officials said Friday the kiosk would arrive by the middle of next week and possibly earlier, Peacock said.
As for the number of local COVID-19 cases, local public health officials were expecting a call Tuesday from their counterparts at the state requesting a mitigation plan for the skyrocketing incidence rate, he said. That would start a timeline that could lead to restrictions lowering capacity at restaurants, businesses and gyms to 25% possibly by Thanksgiving if the incidence rate doesn’t come back down.
Peacock echoed state public health officials when he urged Pitkin County residents not to see friends and family members who not in their immediate household for the month of November.
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Local rescuers had their hands full Thursday with two incidents to address.