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Health

New COVID-19 Testing Sites Open In Larimer County As Demand Surges Statewide

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Matt Bloom
/
KUNC
Patients line up for COVID-19 tests at one of the state's new testing sites in Fort Collins. Demand for tests has surged as case numbers climb and more employers require testing.

When Loveland resident Debbie Bendell developed a cough and runny nose in early September, her first instinct was to try to get a COVID-19 test. So, she got on her laptop and started searching.

She tried the local health department, which offered appointments one day a week. But she wasn’t available at the required time. Then, she tried scheduling a test at a Walgreens near her house, which advertised them for free. No appointments were available there either, she said.

After hitting several more dead ends, Bendell gave up.

“I would identify the emotion as anger,” said Bendell, who has since recovered but still isn’t sure whether she had COVID-19. “We’re closing in on two years of (the pandemic) and the last time cases were surging last winter, it felt easier to get a test.”

Bendell is among a surge of residents who have inundated local healthcare providers and public health departments with requests for COVID-19 tests in recent weeks. The daily number of tests being administered in Colorado has jumped more than 30% since mid-August, according to state data. 

The wave of need comes as cases are rising due to the spread of the delta variant. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are at their highest level since January.

READ MORE: Colorado Hospitals Cope With New Surge Of COVID-19 Patients

The sudden demand for more testing capacity has caught some providers off guard after a slump this summer. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has opened a handful of new sites in recent weeks to help respond, including two in Larimer County.

“We’re seeing that people are starting to access testing more to determine whether or not they’ve been exposed (to the delta variant),” said Emily Travanty, laboratory director at CDPHE. “We are now at close to 100 test sites across the state and we continue to expand that as the demand increases.”

At the state’s new site in Fort Collins on Monday, a line of several dozen cars snaked through the parking lot of Timberline Church, the clinic's temporary home. Clinic staff walked from car to car, swabbing noses.

Fort Collins resident Nick Fredericks rode through the line on his bike. He’s a nursing student at Front Range Community College, which is requiring students to get tested even if they’re vaccinated.

He didn’t have to make an appointment before, and said he was happy with the process.

“It was pretty easy,” Fredericks said.

This site, along with the other new testing site in Loveland, has been averaging about 500 patients per weekday since it opened Sept. 7. Wait times for results are roughly 72 hours, due to a large backlog of tests.

“There’s obviously more demand,” said Jon Dutrow, site manager with Mako Medical, a North Carolina-based company the state has contracted to operate the clinic. “We’re still clearly in the middle of this pandemic and access to testing is huge.”

When Larimer County’s health department became overwhelmed with patients at its weekly testing clinic in late August, staff reached out to CDPHE for help. Funding was secured, and the new Mako clinics were set up within a matter of weeks, said Kori Wilford, community relations supervisor with Larimer County’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

“COVID will likely be here for a long time and certainly through the fall as the delta wave resolves,” Wilford said. “We could see this type of (testing) resource in our community for quite a while, ebbing and flowing with the demand.”

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Matt Bloom
A clinic staff member approaches a car to administer a COVID-19 test. The new drive-thru clinic in Fort Collins is open on weekdays.

Some private testing providers have also reported trouble meeting demand.

Stitches Acute Care, which operates several clinics in Wyoming and Northern Colorado, has seen testing appointments increase 200% at its clinic in Wellington over the past month, said Amy Surdam, chief operating officer.

Surdam attributes the increase to a combination of factors, including students heading back to school and getting sick, pre-travel test needs and more people getting exposed to the delta variant.

“We are now limiting our end-of-day testing of asymptomatic individuals as an effort to try to get our very burned out and overworked staff home at a reasonable hour,” Surdam said in an email. “We anticipate limiting more testing if the volumes don't start to decrease.”

Staffing more drive-thru clinics has also been a challenge at Kaiser Permanente locations in metro Denver. The healthcare provider has set up four locations for members over the past month, offering 250 appointments each day — on top of performing more testing during office visits.

The healthcare provider has had to pull staff from other departments to help operate testing clinics, said Dr. Amy Duckro, lead infectious disease physician with Kaiser.

“It’s been very dynamic,” Duckro said. “I would like to say that we are all infallible and we all have perpetual supplies of energy. But this latest surge has really been a difficult time for health care workers.”

Some providers say they’ve been able to keep up with demand. At Colorado State University, for example, on-campus labs have been able to handle bi-monthly saliva tests that unvaccinated students and staff are required to undergo.

By developing their own testing system and limiting it to students and staff, the university has avoided competition with the marketplace, a spokeswoman said.

“If the (saliva) screening results indicate that someone may have COVID, we then test with a PCR test to confirm, but that’s a very low number,” the spokeswoman said.

In the coming months, testing options are likely to expand even more. CDPHE is planning to relaunch an at-home testing program for residents and scale up the number of testing sites if needed, said Travanty, the state lab director.

“We are currently not exceeding our capacity for testing,” Travanty said.

As for Debbie Bendell, the resident who reached out to us, we followed back up with her.

She says her symptoms have subsided, but she’s still frustrated at what she sees as a slow response to testing demand. She hopes the next time she needs to look for a test, she can find an appointment more easily.

If you’re looking for a COVID-19 testing appointment near you, check out the state’s list of providers. 

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