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Widespread community testing for coronavirus is coming to Southwest Colorado.
San Juan Basin Public Health announced Wednesday that Cedar Diagnostics, a private lab, will soon have the ability to test for coronavirus, marking the first opportunity for testing for all members of the public in the region.
Starting Friday, testing will be held at Cedar Diagnostics locations in Durango, Cortez and Pagosa Springs, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments are required.
The test costs $75, according to an announcement from SJBPH. For people with insurance and a doctor’s order, Cedar Diagnostics will bill insurance. And there are options for reduced payments for those who qualify.
Liane Jollon, director of SJBPH, said Cedar Diagnostics’ ability to test is a major step in battling the coronavirus.
“Fighting any disease starts with diagnostic testing,” she said. “It is the most important tool we have to determine how to conduct our other efforts to control it.”
For weeks, health officials cited the lack of test kits as one of the main issues with the coronavirus, making it hard to track the disease and hard to get an understanding of how widespread it is in the region. It’s a problem that has vexed communities across the U.S.
SJBPH has conducted 140 or so tests in La Plata and Archuleta counties, but local hospitals have not disclosed how many tests they have carried out, so it is difficult to get an accurate representation of how widespread positive cases may be.
With the few tests that have been conducted, La Plata County has recorded 37 confirmed cases and Archuleta County has six. The two counties have no reported deaths, but that may also be a result of not enough tests being performed.
Mercy Regional Medical Center has been conducting tests, but officials refuse to disclose the number it has carried out. Mercy is testing only people who require hospitalization.
Now, with the ability for widespread public testing, health officials can gain a better understanding of the outbreak.
By knowing who tests positives, health officials can better find out who else may have been exposed through contact. And, people can know if they need to self-isolate, which will cut down on the spread, Jollon said.
Testing will also help health officials know if social-distancing measures are working. And at the same time, it will help inform decisions whether to loosen or lift those measures, Jollon said.
“If we have COVID circulating undetected, or poorly detected, there’s no way to move from where we are today, which is really disruptive social distancing, to get back to a lifestyle that looks and feels a lot more normal,” she said.
Michelle Roach, director of operations for Cedar Diagnostics, said the lab was able to secure 800 test kits from a facility in New Jersey. Results are expected within two to three days.
“We were working diligently, night and day, to find a lab that would provide us with testing kits,” she said.
On April 20, Cedar Diagnostics expects to have FDA-approval for a coronavirus test it developed in-house, which will have unlimited capability and be able to produce results the next day.
“We’re really excited to be able to offer this to our community,” Roach said. “It’s much needed.”
Jollon said if people are showing symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath, it’s important to be tested.
Treatment will be the same for people with mild to moderate symptoms, such as staying at home, drinking fluids and other measures usually taken with a normal flu. Symptoms should be monitored in case the illness worsens and requires hospitalization.
But having the test is essential for efforts to flatten the curve of the virus’ spread.
“For understanding where we are as a community, testing is the only way we’re going to learn more about how many cases we have, are infections growing or declining or when the hospital surge is going to happen, if at all,” Jollon said. “All that relies on having accurate real-time diagnostic data.”
Anyone who wants to be tested must call Cedar Diagnostics for an appointment, payment information and testing locations at 247-0937. Dial 2 for Durango and Pagosa Springs or dial 3 for Cortez.
People who do not make an advance appointment will not be tested. SJBPH said the testing was made possible through a partnership between Animas Surgical Hospital and Pagosa Springs Medical Group, which provided training and medical supplies.