Serial testing for Pitkin County, Aspen emergency workers to begin

Basalt, Snowmass Village also looking to add more testing

Weekly, asymptomatic testing of emergency responders in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley could begin by the end of this week or early next week, officials said Wednesday.

The effort will include Aspen police officers, Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies, county jail staff and deputies, Aspen Fire Department personnel, dispatchers at the county’s 911 center and certain employees of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, said Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County’s director of environmental health.

“It may catch a case a little bit earlier than before and limit exposure to other folks,” said Rick Balentine, chief of the Aspen Fire Department. “It’s gonna help us stay in business.”

Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue, Snowmass Village police and Basalt police will likely take part in the effort, though it may initially involve a different type of test, said Scott Thompson, Roaring Fork fire chief, and Brian Olson, Snowmass Village police chief.

Paramedics and staff with the Aspen Ambulance District will not participate in the effort, however, said Gabe Muething, the agency’s director. The district is managed by Aspen Valley Hospital, which instead has opted for rigorous screening procedures rather than serial testing, he said.

“Our screening has been effective,” Muething said. “We’re going to stick with that.”

Some agencies, including Aspen Fire and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, have already received the tests that mainly will be used, known as the Abbott BinaxNOW. The test provides results in about 15 minutes, though it requires medical personnel to supervise the collection of the sample to be analyzed.

Officials on Wednesday were waiting for last-minute technicalities to be cleared up before the serial testing can begin, Dahl said. He said he expected that could happen within a few days.

Medical personnel contracted to work at the Pitkin County Jail will supervise testing for the 61 sheriff’s deputies and staff, as well as dispatchers and jail employees from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office including Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, said Undersheriff Alex Burchetta, Jail inmates also will be tested regularly through a separate program, he said.

“It’s a huge benefit to us to be able to test in that rapid environment,” Burchetta said.

Deputies and staff will be tested within two hours of starting their first shift of the week, he said.

Aspen Fire personnel will supervise tests for Aspen police officers and employees of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, Balentine said. The department has applied to the state to become a testing station and is awaiting approval, he said.

The Binax tests were purchased by the federal government and provided to the state of Colorado, which distributed them to counties, Dahl said. They do not have to be used by Dec. 30 like other tests, including the Curatives in use elsewhere in the county, because they do not have to be sent to a lab, he said. They must be used by March, he said.


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