If you want to get tested for the new coronavirus, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment in advance and consider having a backup plan, the head of the state’s COVID-19 response said Thursday.
On Sunday, testing sites in Westminster and Lone Tree hit capacity and had to turn away some people who didn’t have appointments. Some health care providers in the Denver area also are booked out into next week, and Gov. Jared Polis announced Thursday afternoon that he would send more than 200 National Guard members to assist at testing sites.
Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said he’s heard of “isolated incidents” of delays and of sites having to turn some people away. So it’s a good idea to make an appointment to get tested, or to look up other options in your area in case the first place you choose can’t take any more walk-ins, he said.
The state doesn’t have public data about how often testing sites can’t accommodate everyone who wants to get swabbed.
“We’ve seen this big increase in demand in the last few days,” he said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Bookman also urged patience if lines are longer than expected. Sites have reported that some people waiting to be tested have been verbally abusive to staff, he said.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We’re working as hard as we can to keep everyone safe.”
Chyrise Harris, vice president of communications for COVID Check Colorado, said demand for tests is increasing as the omicron variant spreads, and wait times are somewhat longer than they were a few weeks ago. COVID Check Colorado operates 26 testing sites in the Denver area and 21 in other parts of the state.
“While we are doing everything we can to meet the needs of patients, staffing shortages are also contributing to longer than normal wait times, which is why we are encouraging individuals to make an appointment online and plan for wait times of about 30 minutes,” she said.
Kaiser Permanente, which only offers testing to its members, was booked out until Jan. 4 as of Wednesday. Spokesman Nick Roper said officials are working to add slots.
“We’re pretty glad people are coming in to get tested,” he said.
While much of the focus has been on the Denver area, more rural parts of the state also are seeing backups. The Northeast Colorado Health Department sent a tweet Wednesday urging residents to make appointments if they want to get tested. The department serves Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma counties.
“Because of the holidays and omicron variant quickly spreading, there are longer wait times at testing sites,” the department said.
A few days before Christmas, Colorado added six combination sites offering both vaccines and testing along the Front Range. Statewide, about 150 sites offer testing, although some have limited hours.
Most testing sites are scheduled to be closed Saturday — New Year’s Day — but Bookman said it’s possible some could change their plans and stay open. For anyone who needs to be tested in the next few days, it’s best to go Thursday night or Friday morning, before the incoming snow storm could force sites to close, he said.
The state’s program to distribute rapid tests also has slowed down in the past week. It got off to a rocky start in September, with waits of two weeks or longer, but was running more smoothly until late December, when demand spiked. The rapid tests are intended for regular screening, not for diagnosing if SARS-CoV-2 is causing your symptoms.
Rapid tests are in short supply nationwide, and the state is working with test manufacturer Abbott to try to obtain more, Bookman said. They’re also seeing if other companies could deliver a similar product in the near future, he said.
“We simply don’t know if they have any available,” he said.
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