COVID-19 testing changes, opportunities announced

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Over the next month, community testing sites operated by COVIDCheck Colorado in partnership with San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will no longer offer rapid CUE testing to the public. 

    However, the state announced Tuesday the availability of additional at-home testing as part of a revamped state program.

    SJBPH announced last week the testing sites will “remain open with expanded hours and an ample supply of highly accurate, free and reliable PCR tests. These tests have an average turnaround time of 72 hours or less.”

    The following is the last day on which CUE tests will be available in Archuleta and La Plata counties:

    • Archuleta County community testing site: Sept. 30.

    • La Plata County Fairgrounds community testing site: Sept. 30.

    • Fort Lewis College community testing site: Oct. 15.

    The Archuleta County community testing site is located at 95 S. Pagosa Blvd. (behind the Pagosa Springs Medical Center building). It is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

    “COVIDCheck Colorado has decided in coordination with CDPHE to cease offering the CUE COVID-19 tests in an effort to mitigate significant logistical and operational challenges experienced by staff,” a SJBPH press release explains. 

    The press release adds that the federal government recently announced it will invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production and supply of rapid testing. 

    “SJBPH is monitoring the situation and, if possible, will work to capitalize on increased rapid testing supply for Archuleta and La Plata counties,” the press release states.

    On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a revamped at-home testing program provided by the state.

    According to a state press release, the program will now offer rapid, at-home tests that Coloradans can use without the need for a medical professional to witness the test administration.

    The state, Polis announced, purchased 2 million Binax rapid antigen tests for the program.

    Individuals can sign up to have tests delivered straight to their homes at: covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-testing-at-home.

    “I’m proud that Colorado has the sixth-lowest COVID-19 rates in the country, but in order to lower that even further and effectively end this pandemic, our state must always have a comprehensive approach to combating this virus,” Polis said, speaking about additional vaccination sites opening, COVID-19 testing at home and vaccination. “The virus is not tired of us, Coloradans, so we must use every tool in the toolbox to defeat this pandemic. But it’s scientifically proven and clear that our most effective tool in this fight is the lifesaving, free and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Trust the science and get your vaccine today.” 

    Testing continues to be a critical tool for identifying and investigating positive cases of COVID-19, preventing outbreaks and limiting the spread of the virus. SJBPH encourages residents to get tested if they are symptomatic, think they’ve been exposed or work in a high-contact job. There is no fee for testing at community testing sites. No appointment is needed, although preregistration is strongly encouraged.

    SJBPH Director Liane Jollon noted the importance of access to tests people can take quickly and easily at home, as well as the value in knowing the rate of transmission in a community and the progression of infection.

    She “strongly” encouraged those using at-home tests to follow the instructions to report test results. 

    She also noted that each has a different level of accuracy due to their natures.

    “For asymptomatic individuals, the test type provided at the community test site is more accurate,” she said.

    For information on COVID-19 testing for the general public, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.

    Testing resources for businesses, organizations and providers are available at https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing-options/.

    Data shows pre-pandemic activity levels 

    Jollon noted that there is evidence from mobility data that, in the last few weeks since schools opened, people in Colorado have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

    Mobility data, in general, shows (using de-indentified, aggregate cellphone data) how much time people are at home versus how much time they are out of their home.

    “It really indicates that when kids went back to school this school year, the time that we spend mobile has returned for the first time to pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “So, people have really said kids are back in school, this pandemic is behind us, many of us are vaccinated.”

    She noted that mobility was not at pre-pandemic levels over the summer.

    But, she and SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin shared, the area continues to be on an elevated plateau in terms of transmission.

    Jollon and Griffin urged people to get vaccinated to lower the risk of infection, hospitalization or death, and the pair noted the importance of masking in indoor public spaces, especially with the Delta variant circulating.

    Jollon added that schools and school activities increase the ways people mix, with that now showing up in mobility data.

    Local numbers

    According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 157.1 cases per 100,000 people — up from 142.8 a week prior.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 176.2 Wednesday — down from 178.2 a week prior.

    The U.S.’s one-week rate is 276, down from 295 a week prior.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,336 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,310 a week prior. 

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 8 percent positivity Wednesday.

    There continues to be two active COVID-19 outbreaks in Archuleta County.

    An outbreak was confirmed at Pagosa Peak Open School on Sept. 8 with five confirmed cases — four students and one staff member.

    Griffin reported Wednesday there have been no new cases at PPOS.

    On Sept. 15, an outbreak was identified at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center, with Griffin reporting there are four confirmed cases among unvaccinated staff members.

    The first case was on Sept. 6. No new cases had been reported as of Tuesday.

    An outbreak is identified as five cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period, or two cases in a 14-day period in congregate settings.

    The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.

    Vaccinations continue, SJBPH awaiting news on boosters, kids’ vaccine

    As of Wednesday, 55 percent of Archuleta County’s total population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 52 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series. 

    Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 63 percent have received at least one dose, while 59 percent have completed a vaccine series.

    The state’s recently launched vaccine breakthrough data dashboard is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine-breakthrough.

    Moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals are currently eligible for vaccine booster shots, with Griffin explaining that includes people such as those receiving cancer treatments, and those who have received an organ transplant or stem cell transplant. 

    “The FDA took an important step this past Friday in recommending a booster third dose to adults 65 and older and also health care workers and potentially other frontline workers,” he said, adding that SJBPH is awaiting the additional federal and state authorization needed to begin administering booster doses for that population.

    The advisory board for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet this week, he noted.

    SJBPH also continues to watch for when vaccines may be available for children aged 5-11.

    “People are really anxious to protect kids, to protect in-person learning,” Jollon said, suggesting communities have seen how important it is to protect opportunities for in-person schooling.

    Pfizer has submitted its data, she explained, adding that there are a number of steps to review the data and vaccine for safety and efficacy, especially in children.

    She suggested that, in the meantime, SJBPH hopes kids will mask up during indoor activities to help limit the spread of the virus.

    Jollon previously noted there are about 1,000 children in that age group in Archuleta County.

    A list of vaccination clinics, including links to register, are available on SJBPH’s website.

    randi@pagosasun.com