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Colorado to staff state lab around the clock to speed up COVID-19 test results

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that the state is taking steps to clear its COVID-19 testing backlog so that people can get results sooner.

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The state lab was turning around tests within about 48 hours on average, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said, but as coronavirus cases here and around the country are once again on the rise, Coloradans have increasingly had to wait several days, and sometimes more than a week, to get test results back.

Turnaround times for out-of-state private labs have risen, and the state has very little control over that, Polis said at a news conference. But, he said, it can and will improve its own processes.

“The state lab is working to get back to that one-to-two-day turnaround,” the governor said. “We are rapidly increasing our own test processing capacity. Our state lab will be going from two shifts to three shifts, effectively running around the clock, starting in the next week, and we are also working with many other private labs here in Colorado to increase our own processing capacity so we can get back to that one-to-two-day period, which maximizes the impact of tracking and tracing.”

Though Colorado is not experiencing a resurgent crisis as is occurring in states including California, Texas, Florida, it’s trending in that direction, following four consecutive weeks of gradually increasing cases, and the state reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen in 11 of the past 14 days.

As of Tuesday, 252 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Colorado, up 32 from the prior day — though more hospitals reported back to the state on Tuesday, which could account for some of that increase. COVID-19 hospitalization in Colorado are at their highest point since June 3, but still far below the peak of 888 in April.

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The state reported Tuesday that, to date, 1,594 people have died because of COVID-19 in Colorado, with about 200 more deaths possibly attributable to the virus.

And an additional 444 positive coronavirus cases were added to the state’s tally on Tuesday, bringing that to 37,686 as testing has dropped a bit in recent days after hitting a record high.

The governor urged extreme caution by people who are forced to wait for several days for test results.

“Quarantine yourself during that period,” he said. “Until you get your test results back to confirm that it’s negative, act like you are contagious with coronavirus, because we can’t afford for you to be able to go out and interact, when we know that close to 5% of the folks tested are going to come back positive. If that’s you, and you were out and about during those few days while your test was pending, your were jeopardizing the lives of others, as well as leading to this backslide that we’ve seen in so many other states.”

Many Coloradans — particularly low-wage, hourly workers — cannot afford to quarantine at home for several days or longer, and must choose between going to work and risking the health of themselves and others, or staying home and risking their employment status. Family members of Colorado workers killed by the virus have spoken of pressure their loved ones felt to go to work, potentially in unsafe environments, in order to make money.

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