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Why COVID-19 testing is important even as the number of vaccinations increase

The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting younger Coloradans who are more likely to have asymptomatic cases.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) reinforced a message we've heard a bunch during the pandemic: the importance of getting tested for COVID-19. 

"As people are waiting their turn to get their vaccine and some restrictions relax, it's really important," said Scott Bookman, the COVID-19 incident commander with CDPHE. "Testing can help slow the spread of this virus." 

Bookman said as vaccine rates go up, some areas have seen testing numbers go down.  

For some context, the positivity rate has been going up in Colorado while testing numbers have fluctuated. To really understand the numbers, you need to factor in vaccines too.

"CDC guidance around testing for fully vaccinated people changed," said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer for UCHealth.

Here is the guidance from the CDC:

"Fully vaccinated people with no COVID-like symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, as their risk of infection is low. 

Fully vaccinated people who do not quarantine should still monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure. If they experience symptoms, they should isolate themselves from others, be clinically evaluated for COVID-19, including SARS-CoV-2 testing, if indicated, and inform their health care provider of their vaccination status at the time of presentation to care."

As for what else is going on with testing, the state said there is an expected ebb and flow with testing numbers. Plus, the fourth wave is impacting a younger demographic as many older Coloradans have been vaccinated.

RELATED: Gov. Polis: Colorado now in ‘fourth wave’ of COVID-19 infections

RELATED: Variant cases now make up more than half of new Colorado COVID-19 cases

"The population that needs to be vaccinated are younger adults," said Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer for CDPHE. "It may be that while COVID is spreading, this is a population that has higher rates of asymptomatic spread and unaware they have it. 

"It's all the more reason those who do feel sick need to be tested. It allows us to identify those who are asymptomatic, who they were in contact with and ask them to quarantine."

At the end of the day, health experts said testing is still so important because doctors are also watching an uptick in hospitalizations.

"We are making a lot of progress," Bookman said. "And more Coloradans are vaccinated every day. We are not done with this pandemic yet. Testing is one of the absolutely critical pillars of our response." 

RELATED: Colorado expands rapid at-home testing program

There are more than 80 free, state-sponsored community testing sites still open.

Frontline workers are also eligible to receive at-home COVID-19 tests from the state for free.

The state and doctors are also encouraging people to remember precautions like wearing masks, keeping physical distance and staying home when sick.

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