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Here's an honest look at where Colorado stands on testing for COVID-19

Experts warn the time for testing has passed. Now the focus is on keeping vulnerable communities safe.

DENVER — The time when testing was the focus of the fight against COVID-19 has passed in Colorado, some of the state's leading health experts warn. Now, when there's confirmation of community spread, the focus should shift to keeping vulnerable communities safe. 

"We know that it's in the community at this point. Even though testing is certainly important, it's probably beyond the place that we need to do that as much," said Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at UCHealth. "We need to focus on keeping it out of our communities and away from our most vulnerable patients."

Below are transcripts of conversations 9NEWS has had with some of the state's leading experts on infectious disease and people leading Colorado's response to the virus.

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Scott Bookman, incident commander for the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment

9NEWS: Other countries have slowed their curve through astonishing amounts of testing that we are not currently able to do. If we can't get to the point where we can test like that, what else can we do?

Bookman: We’re doing everything we can to ramp up that testing capacity. That being said, at some point, the testing becomes secondary. We know we have transmission in our community. We can make assumptions that people [who] are showing symptoms of it probably have COVID-19. At that point, the social distancing becomes absolutely paramount.

And then, working to support our healthcare system to take care of those who need it the most.

9NEWS: A question came in to us: Who do we contact to put more pressure on the government to expand testing. You're the government, Scott. I don't get the sense that Colorado needs more pressure to expand testing because you have been begging the feds for testing. Where is our current capacity, where do you want it to be?

Bookman: In some ways, the time for testing is moving past us. I think we need to get a good understanding of what level of transmission we have in our community, but I think that it’s clear that it’s here now. We needed testing months ago, but that time has passed. So we really need to start moving past testing and really starting to think about aggressive social distancing and then how we help our medical system prepare for a potential surge of patients.

9NEWS: If we’re moving out of a testing phase, how do we keep people healthy? Telemedicine?

Bookman: I think the more we can help people in their homes, not having them go out in public, congregating in doctors’ offices, we really want to encourage accessing telehealth, calling your doctor before you go, so we can save the services that we need.

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Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at UCHealth

9NEWS: How has this last week gone?

Barron: We've seen a significant increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 in our community. All hospitals are now limiting visitors. We're moving towards the concept of limiting interactions through social distancing.

9NEWS: What should people at home be doing right now?  

Barron: The two most important things I can think of is making sure they have their medications. And then have plans for what you need to do if your schools are closed or if you have a loved one that you normally take care of.

9NEWS: What are your predictions for the next week?

Barron: I think we will see more cases. I think that's not going to be unexpected. If you look at all the other places that we've seen this, whether it's a country or a city, it starts kind of small, then a few more, and then suddenly you have hundreds of potential cases. 

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