Lack of coronavirus testing leaves Larimer County in the dark about number of cases
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Larimer County officials don’t know how many residents have the new coronavirus because so few have actually been tested, a county health department spokeswoman said Saturday.
The 79 reported cases in the county as of Saturday are likely only a small percentage of the total number of cases, said Katie O’Donnell with the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
The county doesn’t perform its own tests, and the only people being tested by medical providers in Larimer County largely are health care workers and patients needing hospitalization.
There are not enough test kits available for the general public, and patients suspected of having COVID-19 that do not have symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization are being told to return home and self-quarantine for 14 days without being tested.
“I know, anecdotally, our residents are having troubles getting tested,” O’Donnell said. “One of the issues we’re really running into is there aren’t any test kits available. Even though our labs are ready to run, there jut aren’t any kits to run those tests. We don’t have kits, and we don’t know when we’re going to get kits.”
So, the testing data the county has access to is very limited, O’Donnell said, and it’s “incredibly frustrating as we try to get an idea of what’s really going on in our community. So, we’re assuming those numbers (of infected residents) are much higher in our community than what our data is showing.”
The county also doesn’t have data on how many patients with COVID-19 are or have been hospitalized, O’Donnell said, adding that the county health department is trying to work with hospitals to start collecting that data.
According to Colorado Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data released Saturday, at least 13,276 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the state, with 2,061 testing positive, and 44 confirmed deaths, including three Larimer County residents. Private labs are not required to report total tests or negative results to the state, only positive tests. As such, the state only reports positive results, not the number of negative results, back to the county of the tested individual’s residence, O’Donnell said.
The few people who have been tested are not receiving results back from the state testing lab for 7-10 days, she said, so the county’s investigations and notifications of those an infected resident has come in contact with are two weeks after the exposure has occurred.
FAQs: Larimer County and Colorado stay-at-home orders to prevent coronavirus
O’Donnell said the county is trying to get more tests, but so is just about every county in the country right now.
“Even the counties that are doing their own testing are still requiring that a provider make the recommendation, and they have to meet a pretty strict screening criteria to get a test,” she said.
Coronavirus in Larimer County: What we know about cases, community spread
The lack of data has lead to a lot of confusion about the need for the strict stay-at-home order that was issued Wednesday by the county, about 90 minutes before Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order.
“Not really having the data really makes people think our county is overreacting to this,” O’Donnell said.
Larimer County coronavirus cases mostly involve those 60 and under
A breakdown by age group of the 79 positive tests confirmed so far in Larimer County shows that two-thirds of those infected are younger than age 60.
“When this first came out, we told older adults, ‘Don’t go out; stay home,’ so they have been keeping their social distance a lot longer than everyone else,” O’Donnell said. “We wonder if that’s why those numbers are not higher, and our younger generations were not taking it seriously” because initial reports showed that the virus was primarily affecting those 60 and older.
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