Face covering

A sign advises people to wear a face covering to stop the spread of the coronavirus in order to enter a building in Larimer Square late Tuesday, Jan.5, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In November, when Colorado first began receiving a recently approved COVID treatment, officials were so concerned about demand overwhelming supply that they built a tool to dole it out randomly.

Three months later and the drug has been used so sparingly that Eric France, the state's chief medical officer, took a moment at a news conference to promote the availability of the medication that, as of earlier this month, had delivered just a few hundred treatments of a drug that the state had received 1,500 doses of per week.

"I think it's important that any resident in Colorado who meets the criteria, who's positive for COVID, has the opportunity to be aware that these exist and talk to their doctors," France told reporters.

The drug, best known as Regeneron, is an antibody treatment delivered via an hour-long infusion. It's pproved for use in non-hospitalized, COVID-positive patients who are high risk for serious disease. That means older residents or Coloradans with pre-existing conditions that make it more likely that they'll be hospitalized or die. The drug was shown to lower the chance of hospitalization by as much as 70%, but the studies its approval was based upon were limited in size, and the National Institutes of Health previously found there wasn't enough evidence for or against the drug.

France has emphasized its safety and that its success is a needed move in the right direction. Colorado's oldest residents are the most at-risk to end up in a hospital or worse, and the drug is used to prevent them from spiraling into severe illness.

The state has more than two dozen sites where people can receive the infusion, which is free, though the center providing it may charge an administration fee to insurers.

The treatment also requires that recipients wait at the infusion center for another hour after the process is completed so providers can monitor for any side effects.

Last month, France told The Gazette that many hospitals were too busy to aside staff and space for a special treatment center for COVID patients. A doctor with Rose Medical said that facility had been so strapped with with the fall spike that it wasn't possible to stand up another clinic.

In a conversation with other experts in mid-December, France presented slides that providers were saying "no thank you" because they were too "busy with COVID-19 patients." 

France said earlier this month that he was hoping to better promote the availability of the treatment to patients and providers, now that the COVID situation statewide has dropped and hospitals have more breathing room. At first, he and others had been hesitant to promote it too much. Like the state is seeing with the vaccine now, they were concerned about overhyping its presence and then prompting a run on whichever providers picked it up.

That fear of promotion is gone. France said Monday that uptake was low enough that the state wasn't even using its lottery tool and that 100 or so people were registering each week to receive it; the state had been told initially it would receive 1,500 doses per week.