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Polis: Colorado bolstering its coronavirus testing strategy due to federal backlog

The state of Colorado is partnering with health systems and private labs to decrease the turnaround time for COVID-19 tests.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said the state is bolstering its COVID-19 testing capacity in response to a national backlog that has led to nearly two-week delays in results.

“It would have been nice to have a national coordinated strategy, but we aren’t going to wait for it,” Polis said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The backlog is the result of national labs that are overwhelmed by surges of cases in places like Texas, California and Florida.

Polis said as a result, the Colorado state lab is adding a third shift to process tests, and health officials are now partnering with private labs and hospital systems like Children’s Hospital and National Jewish.

The state has also found a Korean manufacturer to provide novel coronavirus testing materials, Polis said.

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“At this point what we’re learning is anything can be put off or shut down,” Polis said.

The governor said testing is the first step in the state’s response to the pandemic. The second is contact tracing. He said the state has 115 contact tracers who have been able to reach 96% of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 within 48 hours.

Full news conference:

Polis said 72% of them have responded and allowed the state to track outbreaks.

“Testing itself doesn’t cure everybody and doesn’t stop it from infecting everybody,” Polis said.

Bolstering the testing capacity comes from CARES Act funds, Polis said. 

"What we need from a health perspective is quick turnaround," Polis said, adding that patients are typically "in a hospital or better after 10 days." 

During the news conference, Polis called for the federal government to continue the deployment of the National Guard, which is conducting COVID-19 testing at nursing homes.

He said the state has been more successful than it was in April at keeping the virus away from vulnerable members of the community.

“While our infection rate is up, our death rate is up at a lower rate because of the success at preventing more outbreaks at senior homes and nursing centers,” Polis said.

The state is also working to acquire more personal protective equipment (PPE), and Polis said it has been able to secure enough medical-grade masks to supply one mask per teach at K-12 schools in Colorado for the next 10 weeks.

Polis said the state is creating a plan for responding to school-based outbreaks that typically includes a surge in testing. 

"Just as we would deal with any other type of institution in society, residential or not, testing is a part of that outbreak strategy," Polis said.