Randy Evetts, Pueblo Public Health Director (right) and Mayor of Pueblo Nick Gradisar speak before reporter on Thusrday, March 19, 2020.

Lack of COVID-19 testing, results forcing Pueblo to make decisions in the dark 

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Stay-at-home orders could be coming for Pueblo County.

But the reason for issuing stay-at-home orders is not because health officials can track and monitor the outbreak, or Puebloans are being irresponsible – officials simply don’t know what COVID-19 is doing. So their best option, as of Tuesday night, is to preempt an outbreak, warn stay-at-home orders are coming, and evaluate the situation daily.

By the numbers: 

  • 200 tests sent to CDPHE
  • 63 tests have been returned
  • 60 were negative
  • 3 were positive
  • 137 total tests are pending with CDPHE. This includes 90 tests taken at the mobile lab.
  • 5-7 days to get results back.

Behind the numbers: 

  • The tests only reflect severe cases and those admitted to the hospital. 
  • Those with mild symptoms aren’t being tested and worries Pueblo Health.
  • Individuals who show mild symptoms or are asymptomatic could be spreading the virus unknowingly.

The Local Picture: Leaders are acting under the grim diagnosis that the outbreak is in Pueblo, but they don’t know. If they wait for data, it could be too late. 

What locals said: 

Randy Evetts, Pueblo Public Health Director said in a press release they are acting as if a spread is here. 

“We know community spread is likely a reality” said Randy Evetts, Pueblo Public Health Director said in a press release. 

Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz was quoted saying, “Currently we are discussing our options as a group, but Pueblo leaders have not enacted Stay-at-Home orders at this time.”

At Thursday’s mobile testing site, Evetts was frustrated not having enough tests and results. He was expecting results from the lab last Monday. As of Tuesday evening, he still did not have results.

What the state said:

The state lab can process approximately 400 tests a day and private labs can do around 200 a day, Mike Willis, Colorado’s Office of Emergency Management Director told the press on Tuesday.

“We’re working diligently to build capacity and turnaround time,” Willis told PULP. “I appreciate frustration by the local leaders.”

The lack of the reagent, the chemical mixture needed to process the test that is straining capacity, Willis said.

What the Governor’s Office said:
“The Governor is actively working with the federal delegation, the White House, and the private sector to get more testing to our state but frankly, the federal government should have ramped up testing quicker. The Governor has acted boldly and swiftly to stop the spread of this virus, shares the concerns expressed and wants to ensure the state shares a strong partnership with local communities during these challenging times. The Governor supports these local efforts, and it’s extremely important that just as our state is acting boldly and urgently, that our county health departments are also taking strong actions.” – Coner Cahill, Spokesperson for the Governor Jared Polis.

What Parkview Hospital says: 

As of Tuesday evening, Rachael Morris, spokesperson for Parkview Hospital, told PULP they have not seen the influx of severe COVID-19 cases. Still, Parkview is preparing that the wave is coming. 

Earlier in the day, the hospital constructed an outside COVID-19 triage unit.

What would the stay-at-home order do: 

“Stay-at-home orders will likely include closing all non-essential businesses and mandating people stay home unless they are buying groceries, going to the doctor, or providing other critical services for family members. Group gatherings will be banned, while outdoor exercise (in non-group settings) will be allowed.” – Pueblo County Emergency Management

When would it be ordered? Officials are evaluating the situation daily.

Why it matters: Sarah Joseph, Public Information Officer for Pueblo Health told PULP, “normally in these situations, the science drives the decisions.” With limited testing and delayed results, local leaders want to preempt spread but their fear is they only see the snowflake on the tip of the iceberg.

Big Picture: What is coming could be a shut-it-down order not based on science but because it was the only option city-county leaders had left to play while they wait for test results.