Virus Outbreak Testing Shortage

This image provided by Abbot in September 2021 shows packaging for their BinaxNOW self test for COVID-19. President Joe Biden is betting on millions more rapid, at-home tests to help curb the latest deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is overloading hospitals and threatening to shutter classrooms around the country. But the tests have already disappeared from pharmacy shelves in many parts of the U.S., and manufacturers warn it will take them weeks to ramp up production, which was slashed after demand for the tests plummeted over the summer of 2021.

Colorado is poised to re-launch an at-home COVID-19 testing program, Gov. Jared Polis announced on Tuesday.

Speaking at a COVID-19 briefing from the governor’s mansion, Polis touted the state’s move to purchase 2 million more BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests.

“It's an extra security layer to identify any infection earlier and find out whether in fact it's COVID," he said, "to take that extra step to protect yourself and others."

Colorado earlier this year unveiled an at-home testing regime for educators that kicked off with the governor hand-delivering rapid COVID-19 test kits to Front Range teachers and faculty. The program was subsequently expanded to restaurant workers and then to all public-facing employees.

The at-home testing program featured some hiccups along the way, including a spat reported by The Gazette between state public health officials and eMed, the company providing the tests.

Now, Polis said, the re-launch is set to send eight free tests to anyone in the state who requests them within four to six days.

Polis also announced four additional community vaccination clinics with the capacity to each get up to 1,000 doses of the vaccine into the arms of Coloradans each day. Those include:

  • A drive-through clinic at the Aurora Municipal Center open from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • A drive-through clinic in Littleton at the Southwest Plaza Mall open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • A walk-in clinic in Colorado Springs at Chapel Hills Mall open from 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
  • A walk-in clinic in Commerce City in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park parking lot open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

According to an El Paso County spokesperson, the vaccination clinic at the Chapel Hills Mall has operated for a long time and is not new.

The push to boost testing and vaccinations comes as Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, indicated hospitalizations in Colorado are “trending in the right direction” and hospital capacity at large is at an “overall reasonable” level.

But while hospital capacity statewide sits at 85%, Herlihy flagged concerns over the northeast quadrant of the state where capacity sits at 94%. She highlighted two contributing factors: lagging vaccination rates in Weld County and high case count rates in Wyoming.

Herlihy said COVID-19 data gathered by the state shows a clear correlation between vaccination rates and hospitalizations.

“Our counties that tend to have the highest hospitalization rates ... tend to be our counties where we see the lowest vaccination rates,” she said while displaying a graphic highlighting Weld and El Paso counties. “Conversely, if you look at Boulder or Denver counties, those are some of our counties where we really see our highest immunization rates and those are the counties where we're seeing the lowest hospitalization rates right now.”

Weld and El Paso counties boast vaccination rates of 64.1% and 68.1% respectively. The pair were also featured along with Pueblo County as the three large counties with rates of over 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span.

Herlihy also pointed to high case counts in neighboring Wyoming.

“We know that Wyoming residents can also potentially be hospitalized in northern Colorado,” she said. “That certainly could be part of what we're seeing right now.”