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The center will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m providing initial-screening and testing for patients with COVID-19 symptoms and concerns.(Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

The state health department is keeping pace with testing for COVID-19, but in the race to better track outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, they may not be gaining any ground.

During a conference call with reporters, Mike Willis, director of Colorado's Emergency Operations Center, was asked repeatedly about the backlog, which continues to be about 2,600 tests. The state lab can handle about 400 tests per day, state officials have said.

The state is working on building mass testing capabilities, Willis said, but when that will be ready is unknown. The state is trying to build that capacity to reduce the amount of time for results, he added. Turnaround on tests is now four to seven days, he said. 

The delays are happening while local communities issuing more "stay at home" orders, which Gov. Jared Polis appreciates and fully supports. Whether Polis chooses to follow suit "remains to be seen," Willis said; a lot of the decision will be based on how effective those local orders are.

Thirty-one counties in Colorado have reported positive cases of COVID-19. The 33 counties that have yet to report any cases are along Colorado's Eastern Plains and in southern Colorado, up to the San Luis Valley. Willis, however, said the lack of positive cases is tied more to the lack of testing.

There are "substantially more cases in rural Colorado than are currently being reported," Willis said. As the state continues to develop mass testing capability, there will be better understanding on the spread of COVID-19 in those communities. "It's safe to assume the spread is greater than the actual number of cases." That's why it's so important in rural Colorado, if someone shows symptoms, to self-quarantine, he said.

Willis also declined to identify the counties where at least five residential and non-hospital health care facilities have had outbreaks, which was reported on the CDPHE's website. Willis said that is still under a "thorough investigation." He also could not identify how many health care workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

While President Trump has set a deadline of Easter, April 12, for getting the country back to work, that's not his call, Willis indicated, saying "Federal policy has impacts" on the state. But while president might have authority in dealing with international companies, it's the governor's call on issues such as the 50% reduction in the on-site workforce, an executive order Gov. Jared Polis issued on Sunday.

The federal government has now sent to Colorado 49,200 N95 masks; 115,000 surgical masks; 21,400 surgical gowns; 21,800 face shields; and 84 coveralls. Willis said the state expects more supplies from the strategic national stockpile, but state officials have called that shipment inadequate.

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