As Colorado's number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 reached more than 180 — with nearly 1,800 tested — the state's public health office emphasized that tests need to be prioritized for vulnerable populations.
“We don't necessarily need every individual to be tested — we want individuals with symptoms to stay home,” Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said on a call with reporters March 17.
Amid a shortage of testing capacity, the state wants to make sure tests are available for “priority populations,” Herlihy said. Adults older than 60 and people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of becoming very sick or dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble, and most people develop only mild symptoms. But some see more serious symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
The state is trying to work with health care systems statewide and believes that in the coming days there will be more testing available, Herlihy said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urges those who are sick to stay away from others for at least seven days after symptoms begin — and until a fever has been gone for 72 hours. That's known as “isolation.”
“Any risk of transmission after seven days, we believe, is very low,” Herlihy said.
A quarantine, on the other hand, is when people who may have been exposed to the virus avoid others, and wait to see if they become sick. The department urges those people to stay away from others for 14 days.
People are thought to be the most contagious when their symptoms are at their worst, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some spread of the virus might be possible before people show symptoms.
There have been reports of that happening with COVID-19, but it's not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, according to the CDC.
Colorado had 183 COVID-19 cases in 19 counties of the afternoon March 17. The state's second death from COVID-19 — a man in his 70s — was announced by the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment that day.
His death is connected to an earlier identified positive COVID-19 case, the county department said on its website.
The state's first death from COVID-19 was a woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions who resided in El Paso County. As of March 17, 20 were hospitalized due to the illness.
The total number of people tested rose to 1,790, a number that now includes private tests and those who have gotten test results from the state's lab.
Gov. Jared Polis has said thousands of Coloradans likely have the virus, and Herlihy said it's difficult to estimate the true total.
“Part of the challenge here is many cases are mild … we typically are much more likely to identify cases at the top of the pyramid, so, those who have severe illnesses, deaths that occur” and so on, Herlihy said.
It's also unclear how many have had COVID-19 and recovered, and Herlihy did not have those numbers. But once people do recover, it's unlikely that they'll become infected again, she added.
“From what we know about other coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses … we don't except people to get this infection more than once,” Herlihy said.
To be tested, people must have an order from their health care provider. Colorado has a state test site that started in Denver and is now moving to different locations around the state, and the Telluride and Routt County areas were to have priority the week of March 16.
Private labs can perform the test too, though. Health care providers should follow the testing criteria from CDC in recommending tests, but they are not mandated to do that, according to the state Department of Public Health. For testing done at the state lab, people do need to meet those criteria, the department added.
Testing is free, according to the state, but associated visits to health care offices have been known to cost. The state was able to take action to address those costs in some cases, but Coloradans should contact their health care provider about coverage.
According to the CDC, priorities for testing may include:
• Hospitalized patients who have symptoms compatible with COVID-19;
• Other people with symptoms, such as older adults, individuals with chronic medical conditions and those with a reduced ability to fight infections;
• Anyone, including health care personnel, who within 14 days of symptoms showing had close contact with a suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, or who has a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of their symptoms showing.
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