COVID-19 testing availability changing

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

COVID-19 testing availability in Archuleta County is changing.

Earlier this week, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) announced that its drive-through testing would end on April 1.

PSMC Chief Administrative Officer Ann Bruzzese reported that testing continues to be available Monday through Saturday at PSMC’s outpatient clinic and, in emergency situations, in the Emergency Department.

With the change to PSMC’s testing days, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) announced the addition of Saturday testing at the drive-through testing site at the Archuleta County fairgrounds.

The free COVID-19 testing site at the fairgrounds, located at 344 U.S. 84, continues to be operated in partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado.

The testing takes place under the all-weather Hughes Pavilion, with the site open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

You can register for your free test by going to www.covidcheckcolorado.org and selecting “Get My Test.”

According to a COVIDCheck Colorado flier, “COVIDCheck Colorado uses a highly sensitive and reliable nasal mid-turbinate swab PCR test that is administered by licensed medical professionals. Please arrive wearing a mask.”

Testing also continues to be available at a number of local health care facilities, including:

• Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.

• Pagosa Medical Group (including rapid testing if deemed appropriate by a provider): 372-0456.

Additional testing information is available at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.

SJBPH suggests that testing is critical if you have symptoms, believe you’ve been exposed, work in a high-contact job, or if you have been gathering with people outside your household. 

Additional testing allows public health officials to sequence more samples and identify if COVID-19 variants are more widespread, the agency notes.

On Wednesday, SJBPH’s Brian Devine, who serves as the deputy incident commander for SJBPH’s COVID response, suggested that the testing rate locally has been pretty steady or slowly declining.

“It has not declined to the extent that it has elsewhere in the state,” he said.

The statewide positivity is up to 6 percent, he noted, with the goal being below 5 percent.

The positivity rates in Archuleta and La Plata counties, he added, are “considerably lower.”

Since late March of 2020, testing had confirmed a cumulative total of 748 cases among Archuleta County’s permanent residents, according to SJBPH’s data dashboard Wednesday.

Variants and
transmission control

Devine noted that state modeling is still uncertain regarding the trajectory of COVID-19 in Colorado, but explained there are multiple known factors in play.

The first, he explained, are variants of concern in Colorado that are more severe and more likely to lead to hospitalization.

“And most of the increase in hospitalization statewide, it sounds like, is in … 40-somethings and 50-somethings who have generally not been eligible for vaccines. So the vaccines are doing the job of protecting the older populations who were eligible earlier,” he said.

Devine added that, because the variants seem to be more severe, it’s likely that they are causing more hospitalizations in the unvaccinated population than would have occurred before the variants arrived.

Devine suggested that about half of the positive samples submitted to the state for variant analysis were the United Kingdom variant this week, which is a “huge jump” from last week.

As of Wednesday, a California variant remained the only variant found among Archuleta County cases, according to SJBPH’s website.

The other factor, he noted, is that transmission control has decreased between vaccinations and indications from the state that restrictions will continue to be relaxed in the near future.

Those factors, he explained, are making transmission stable rather than continuing to come down.

He suggested it indicates the need to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, especially those at the greatest risk, reminding that it takes time and, in most cases, a second dose to build immunity.

“So, it is a much smaller population that is protected and a very large population that is unprotected right now,” he said. “So, we’re getting there, but we’re a few weeks away from where vaccination really starts to take the place of our other prevention measures. It will be a few weeks before we can safely say now we have enough vaccine-derived immunity that we don’t need these other measures anymore.”