Pitkin County stops testing for COVID-19 | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County stops testing for COVID-19

A healthcare provider puts a fit-tested mask over her face before her next patient at the coronavirus testing location at the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department’s Aspen Village Location on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Local health officials have stopped testing individuals for COVID-19 due to resource constraints, and experts also said that a test doesn’t constitute treatment anyway.

Instead, officials urge people who have symptoms of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is now being spread community wide, to stay home for 14 days.

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 Friday 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.”

Ressler also said testing, which was conducted Wednesday and Thursday in offsite locations, 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, noting that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s capacity is processing 160 tests a day. “As you can imagine these tests are coming in from all over Colorado, and we need to do our part to also be judicious.”

Bob Helmus, a Transportation Security Administration agent who works at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, is currently self-isolating after he came down with a scratchy throat and shortness of breath Monday.

He was told by his employer Thursday night to stop reporting to work and to get tested.

Helmus said he called the county’s hotline and was told by a health care specialist that his symptoms did not rise to the level of getting a test but that he should remain home for 14 days.

He said he convinced his physician, who had limited specimen swabs, to test him for COVID-19 on Friday. He also was tested for the flu but that turned out to be negative.

The COVID-19 test was conducted in the doctor office’s parking lot while Helmus wore a mask.

“Because of my exposure at the airport they did it,” he said, adding that his doctor also was concerned about his oxygen levels.

He is awaiting test results, which could take several days to come back, while he remains in self-isolation with his wife, who runs a private school in the valley.

AVH has the capability to take swabs of people’s noses and mouths and send the specimens to CDHPE’s lab in Denver. But that will only occur if individuals meet the criteria established by health officials.

AVH’s chief clinical officer Lori Maloy said Friday that the hospital wants to be notified prior to a person with severe symptoms coming there.

“We will get our gear on and get masks for them and bring them into the hospital, but we will bring them in through the back of the hospital, so that we’re not taking them through where our visitors’ family may be sitting or other staff that might be exposed,” she said.

No one has been brought in the hospital in that manner yet, Ressler said.

Gabe Muething, director of Aspen Ambulance and a member of the incident management team, said if there were more resources for testing, he’d likely accept them.

“Our goal with this is not to overwhelm already stretched state resources with the labs in their current capacity,” he said. “I think that as we move forward, we certainly want to evaluate how that testing would affect our community and how it would affect our treatment priorities.

“At that point, we would make the decision, depending on what resources we have available.”


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