COVID

The CDC’s COVID-19 laboratory test kit. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control)

The State of Colorado was one of the quickest in the country to offer drive-thru COVID-19 testing in the early weeks of the pandemic.

But a lot has happened since March 11, 2020, when cars first idled in an east Denver neighborhood as drivers waited to be tested — and the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) recently announced it will close the remaining COVID-19 community test sites that are still open on Jan. 15.

“Coloradans have transitioned away from relying on large community testing sites and toward testing at home with widely available at-home rapid tests, health care providers, or local retail pharmacies,” Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 Incident Commander, explained in a news release.

There were once more than 150 test sites; now just a couple dozen remain, scattered all over Colorado. Half are on the Front Range, where most of Colorado’s population resides; as of Sunday, according to the state’s “Find a Covid-19 test” webpage, not one of those sites will remain open.

Indeed, only five sites in all of Colorado will offer free tests from next week on.

Two of those places are in the San Juans: both the San Miguel County Public Health Department and Ouray County Public Health will continue to offer free COVID-19 testing indefinitely.

“Our free Covid test funding actually ended in July of 2022,” said Grace Franklin, San Miguel County’s public health director. From that month on, “Public Health decided we will continue to provide COVID tests to the public, and we’re assessing needs on an ongoing basis. Currently, SMCPH provides a rapid NAAT COVID test (a rapid PCR test) every Thursday from 10-11 a.m.” in the SMC Annex Building, at 335 W. Colorado Ave. (next to the Second Chance Humane Society store).

“People can also take home free at-home COVID tests from our county office or local public libraries,” Franklin said. (More information and a link to register are at sanmiguelcountyco.gov/736/COVID.)

In addition, both rapid NAAT tests, which offer same-day results, and PCR tests are available at the Telluride Regional Medical Center, open Monday through Saturday by appointment (the center does not provide free or asymptomatic COVID testing, Franklin noted, “but most insurance carriers cover COVID tests for those who are symptomatic or who have been exposed, which can help reduce barriers to care for many”).

Rapid NAAT and PCR testing is also available locally, Monday through Friday, by appointment at the Uncompaghre Medical Center in Norwood. Both the Telluride and Norwood medical centers, Franklin said, may require a fee or co-pay.

Free COVID testing also remains available at the Ouray County Public Health Department, director Tannery Kingery said.

“We’ll continue to provide the testing as long as the state is still providing us the tests, and we have the funding,” he said.

CDPHE has said it will continue to help local public health agencies that “determine they need to establish ongoing testing” use “federal funds they already have” and “connect them directly with available federal resources and programs” so that they may continue offering free COVID-19 tests.

“I would say fewer people have been taking advantage of testing the last couple of months,” Kingery said. “Sometimes they want us to test when they stop by; sometimes they want to pick up free test kits to take home. It just depends. Testing is free; we don’t bill your insurance, and we don’t have a limit to the number of at-home tests you can take with you. We have a pretty healthy supply of tests. We gave, like, 100 to an ice-climbing event last weekend that wanted tests and a bunch of masks. We haven’t run into any problems.”

In-person testing is available at the Ouray County Health Center, located at 302 2nd Street, Monday through Thursday, 9-11 a.m. and from 1-3 p.m. (county offices are closed Monday on Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday).