What state health officials currently know – and don’t know – about COVID-19 in Colorado

State public officials are still gathering information on the number of hospital ventilators available

This is a new image of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the disease that flared in Wuhan, China, in late December and has killed nearly 2,000 people. (Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

Scott Bookman, the state public health incident commander for the coronavirus outbreak, spoke with reporters Monday afternoon in a press conference that left more questions than answers.

He said the state lab has the capacity to process about 250 tests a day and is looking to partner with private companies to send more tests for processing. One bottleneck is the actual collection of specimens. Labs in hospitals need personal protective gear and special negative air pressure rooms to test people – requirements he said are an “enormous burden.”  

Bookman said his agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is working with the Colorado National Guard to set up a mobile testing site in Telluride that should be operational tomorrow. A mobile site will be offered later this week in Steamboat Springs. Officials are trying to get ahead of the virus in both towns because community spreads already have hit resort areas in Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties. 

Bookman said the state is hearing about shortages of swabs and equipment to transport specimens. He added that personal protection equipment also “will ultimately become a concern in response to this event.”

“We are doing everything we can to obtain all the supplies that we need to continue to expand testing throughout the state.”

Bookman could not say about how many intensive care beds there are in Colorado, nor how many are currently in use.

“We are beginning to gather that data at this time so that we can begin to develop surge plans. But that information is not available at this moment.”

Asked how many ventilators (also known as respirators) are in Colorado hospitals, he said, “We do not have that information.”

“We’re currently working with our hospital partners across the state to assess that surge capacity. And then we will work with our federal partners to obtain as many ventilators as we need – and are available – to support a health care surge capacity in the coming weeks.”

But, earlier Monday, President Trump urged the nation’s governors in a conference call to try to get extra ventilators without help from the federal government, the New York Times reported. 

Bookman also could not say the median amount of time it takes for health officials to notify people of their test results. People who have been tested in Denver, Jefferson County and Durango told The Independent today that they waited or have been waiting from five to six days to hear back. 

CDPHE cannot say how many cases there are in Colorado relative to positive results, he said. “We do not have an estimate like that at this time. We are still gathering surveillance to inform our understanding of the spread of disease.”

Later Monday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis said in a press conference that the number of cases in the state is likely much higher than what has been reported.

“We know there are likely thousands more here in Colorado,” Polis said. 

Colorado Independent reporter John Herrick contributed to this report.

A recovering newspaper journalist, Susan reported for papers in California and Nevada before her 13 years as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, “The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. The ACLU honored her in 2017 for her years of civil rights coverage, and the Society of Professional Journalists honored her in April with its First Amendment Award. Susan and her two boys live with a puppy named Hymie whom they’re pretty sure is the messiah.

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