In-home coronavirus testing a "big win" in Colorado mountain county, but more tests needed

Posted at 12:36 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 14:48:15-04

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Coronavirus tests have been limited across Colorado, but a mountain county is hoping a new mobile program — and possibly hundreds of tests ordered from a private lab company — will greatly increase their ability to track the spread of COVID-19.

Summit County on Tuesday launched in-home testing for residents who show coronavirus symptoms and have a doctor's note qualifying them to be tested.

Under the program, first responders with Stadium Medical, a private ambulance company based in the Denver area, will go to residents' homes and collect samples for coronavirus tests. The tests will then be sent to a Quest Diagnostics, a private lab company, for processing. Results from Quest have been available in 4-5 days from sample pickup.

"Our guidance to anyone who is sick is to stay home," said Julie Sutor, the county director of communications. "This helps us ensure they are fulfilling that guidance."

On Tuesday, six test samples were collected with the mobile testing but officials expected the program to ramp up to about 15 tests per day. Through Wednesday morning, 131 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Summit county. Thirty-four tests had come back positive and 33 remained pending.

The county is paying for the mobile program through its general fund, though Sutor said the federal government is expected to reimburse 75% of the cost. Insurance will cover the lab processing costs, and the county will pick up the costs for uninsured patients.

Still, the mobile program will be dependent on how many tests are available, and there's been a shortage across the country.

Summit County gets test kits from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but those supplies have been limited. The county is more hopeful it will receive an order of 500 of tests from Quest, though the full order isn't guaranteed, Sutor said. Quest will send the county test kits as they come available.

Before the mobile program, testing in Summit County had been limited critical workforce members, such as first responders, and patients in the hospital and at the Summit County Community Care Clinic. The county had considered opening a drive-through testing site, but the mobile testing program requires less personnel and personal protection equipment (PPE).

In a news release about the program this week, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland warned residents to not be alarmed if they see workers in PPE entering homes.

“This may feel like an ‘E.T.’ moment, but we don’t want anyone to be alarmed," Wineland said. "The residents of those homes are aware that the team is on its way."

Wineland called the mobile testing "a big win on many fronts, as long as we continue to be able to obtain test kits."