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As COVID-19 cases in Boulder County continue to climb, testing surges tax resources

Just days after Christmas, COVID-19 testing sites all around Longmont are feeling the brunt with lengthy waits and not enough staff.
12-16 Fairgrounds (1 of 3)
The Boulder County Fairgrounds are seeing a surge in wait times for COVID-19 testing the day after Christmas.

Just days after Christmas, COVID-19 testing sites all around Longmont are feeling the brunt with lengthy waits and not enough staff.

Boulder County issued a press release yesterday, cautioning residents about the increased demands and long wait times, reporting the Longmont site saw a 238% increase in tests between Dec. 15 and 22.

“Positive cases of COVID-19 in Boulder County have risen nearly 160% in the last week. As a result, we have seen a huge uptick in demand for tests, creating long lines and significant wait times. Unfortunately, we expect extended wait times to continue throughout the holidays,” said Boulder County Public Health Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Campbell. 

“We are aware of the delays and are working with our partners to remedy the situation and ensure a positive experience at community testing sites,” he said.

Boulder County’s main testing site in Longmont at the Boulder County Fairgrounds has continued to project lengthy waits and Mako Medical staff expect that to continue throughout the week, according to Jeanette Rimbey, a lab technician with Mako Medical.

Rinbey said the Fairgrounds site continues to deal with a staffing shortage due to several members quitting prior to the holidays. While Mako Medical searches for replacements, they are working with what they have, Rimbey said. Rimbey and her colleagues hurry between vehicles with barely time for a break, while the line of cars seems endless.

“By 5 p.m. every night, we have to cap it off at a certain point or we’ll never go home,” Rimbey said.

While the Fairgrounds site is open until 6 p.m., Rimbey said they had to enforce the cut off point in order to serve people and still get the site shutdown each night. Sunday and Monday, cars wound through the Fairgrounds stretching to the Boston Avenue entrance. Boulder County Sheriff’s deputies stepped in to block off the Nelson Road entrances to allow the site to close for the evening.

At UCHealth, Communications Specialist Robert Allen said numbers have been steadily climbing since before Christmas. Between the week ending on Dec. 18 and Christmas, the Longmont and Fort Collins UCHealth testing sites saw a 50% increase in testing appointments.

Across town at the St. Vrain Innovation Center, the COVIDCheck Colorado site saw 700 patients come through on Monday, according to Site Supervisor Jess Solomon. The numbers are expected to continue at that scale throughout the week, Solomon said.

Was it concerns from exposure during holiday gatherings? Anticipating or returning from travel? The continued rise of Delta and Omicron variants?

“I think it’s kind of all of the above,” Solomon said. “We do have a lot of people coming through with families that have (tested) positive, or have been traveling to and from events.”

It can take a few days for symptoms to present enough for a COVID-19 test to catch, so Solomon and her colleagues recommended that anyone who received negative results from a test over the weekend get tested again toward the end of the week. 

The surge of tests has put a burden on the labs as well, Solomon explained, and COVIDCheck had to add an additional lab to help process test results in a more timely fashion. PCR tests, like the ones at the Fairgrounds and Innovation Center, can take 24 to 72 hours for test results and rapid tests are in short supply.

Two weeks ago, Flatirons Family Pharmacy administered around 60 COVID-19 tests, according to Jenn Palazzolo, owner of the pharmacy. The week of Christmas, the number of COVID-19 tests her pharmacy issued tripled, which she attributed to a rise in COVID-19 variants like Delta and Omicron.

“A lot of people are symptomatic and positive in spite of having a vaccine or booster,” Palazzolo said.

Part of the issue is a scarcity of tests, Palazzolo said. She managed to secure a number of rapid PCR tests but getting ahold of the antigen tests has been difficult, Palazzolo explained. 

Just yesterday, President Biden acknowledged the scarcity issue in a call with the National Governors Association, adding that the federal government will continue to use the Defense Production Act to produce tests. Biden’s administration will also work to provide more free at-home tests for Americans in the coming weeks, he added.

“But it’s not enough.  It’s clearly not enough,” Biden said. “If I had — we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have.”

Correction: Fixed the spelling from Rinbey to Rimbey


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