Testing blunders crippled US response as coronavirus spread (copy) (copy)

A technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York’s Long Island. The number of COVID-19 cases in El Paso is rising and has exceeded the average number of daily cases seen in April and May.

UCHealth announced Thursday it expects to continue operating a coronavirus testing site near Memorial Park in Colorado Springs with or without federal support. 

The federal government's contract to sponsor that site on Union Boulevard is scheduled to end Friday. As of 5 p.m. Thursday it was unknown if the contract would be extended, said Lisa Powell, El Paso County Public Health emergency preparedness and response program manager.

"Some of these decision are needing to go as high as the vice president," she said. 

The site opened March 31 for first responders and health care workers from across the region and was expanded Sunday to include those 65 and older who had coronavirus symptoms.

The number of people tested has varied from as high as 380 people to a low of 80, Powell said. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided 250 tests per day, after which UCHealth did the testing.

If UCHealth starts running the site without federal support, it would stay open as long as supplies last, said Cary Vogrin, a spokeswoman for UCHealth. She could not say how long that might be or if the site might change the types of patients it sees. 

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Mark Orlicky went to the FEMA-sponsored site to get tested on Thursday at the request of his wife, Linda, who had been sick on and off for about two or three weeks, he said.

He had been experiencing one of the symptoms of the virus himself and agreed to go, he said.

“Going in getting treated, getting swabbed, that was fabulous, now we wait for the next part,” he said.

He was told to expect his results in three to five days, which is still fast compared to what his other family members experienced, he said.

His daughter, who was exposed to the virus, found out she was negative nine days after she was swabbed.

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Linda Orlicky waited more than a week for her results after she was tested at her primary care doctor with Matthews-Vu Medical Group. Her test result came back negative Thursday afternoon after Mark went in for testing, Mark said. 

Matthews-Vu Medical Group started to provide drive-up testing for the coronavirus patients this week after shifting to a local lab for testing supplies and processing, said Paul Novotny, director of operations for the clinic.

The shift to Centennial State Laboratory allowed the clinic to cut the turnaround for test results from seven to 10 days to three or four days, he said.

The shortage of testing equipment was particularly pronounced for several weeks in March, but it seems to be easing a bit, allowing the practice to test more patients, he said. The medical group is still accepting new patients, he said.

In addition to the testing available near Memorial Park,  UCHealth is providing testing at it's emergency department tent outside UCHealth Memorial Hospital Center for those that qualify, including those who need hospitalization and those who are immunocompromised, Vogrin said. UCHealth's primary care clinics and urgent care clinics are not providing testing. 

Another large primary care provider in town, Optum, is providing coronavirus testing at its three dedicated coronavirus clinics, said Dr. Rocky White, medical director of specialty services. However, the clinics are limiting their testing to health care workers who are symptomatic and high risk patients, such as the elderly with additional chronic conditions, because of limited testing supplies, he said. 

One of Optums' dedicated coronavirus clinics is on the city's west side at Roundhouse, 600 21st St. Two coronavirus clinics, one for adults and one for children, are open at 1633 Medical Center Point. The hours of the clinics are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 636-0293.

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