One question health officials in La Plata County keep hearing from the public is: How many tests for coronavirus have been conducted in the community? But arriving at the answer isn’t so simple.
“I totally get why people want that information, they want to wrap their brains around what is going on in our community,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health. “But it’s a really complex issue as to why we don’t know all the tests that leave our community.”
About a month ago, before the number of cases ramped up across the country, SJBPH was in direct communication with local health care providers, which shared how many tests had been conducted on people.
“We knew at any given time the scope of pending tests,” Jollon said. “But that feels like it was years ago.”
Health care providers in the community are reporting to SJBPH only when a test comes back positive. They are not required to, and haven’t been, reporting the total number of tests.
Mercy Regional Medical Center, for instance, said in an email Monday it isn’t releasing the number of coronavirus tests it has completed.
The Colorado Department of Public Health reports there have been 15,364 people tested as of Sunday. A CDPHE spokesman said all testing results need to be reported to the state, but data by county was not available.
Complicating the matter further for local officials is the fact that more health care centers are obtaining the ability to test, and some send the tests off to private labs.
Jollon said knowing how many tests have been conducted isn’t crucial to fighting the outbreak, but it would be helpful information to know to relay to the community.
“We’re happy just that more testing is available … but we’d love that information to answer more of the community’s questions,” Jollon said.
One other topic on the community’s mind has been why the health department has not released demographics about those who have tested positive. In La Plata County, there have been 23 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon.
Jollon said that demographics weren’t initially released because there were only a handful of confirmed cases, and the health department didn’t want to compromise the identity of any patients.
But now that there are more positive cases, SJBPH plans to release this week the percent of confirmed cases by age group, separated by decade.
“We didn’t have demographics because it was only a few people,” Jollon said. “Now, we have numbers.”