Between 13,000 and 33,000 people in Colorado could have the novel coronavirus right now, state public health officials estimated on Thursday.
Colorado’s top health officials, along with Gov. Jared Polis, repeatedly have said the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory illness caused by the new virus, is far lower than the data indicates due to a lack of widespread testing.
The actual number of cases in Colorado could be four to 10 times higher than the 3,342 the state had confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon, Scott Bookman, the state’s incident commander for COVID-19, said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
Polis has time and again expressed his frustration at the lack of mass testing capabilities and the inability of the federal government to provide more resources to fight the outbreak. The finite resources have forced officials to prioritize testing for health care providers, first responders and serious cases requiring hospitalization.
Local jurisdictions have take it upon themselves to try different testing methods, such as the privately funded blood tests for all residents in San Miguel County. While the state is evaluating new testing methods, it has no plans to widely adopt that blood test, Bookman said Thursday.
Polis pleaded for more personal protection equipment and ventilators in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence dated March 28 and announced in a news release Thursday, saying the COVID-19 death rate is rising faster in Colorado than in any other state.
Bookman on Thursday said that’s no longer the case, although he didn’t give an indication as to where Colorado now falls on that list.
“That letter was sent several days ago,” he said. “Those numbers are no longer accurate with what we know today.”
Still, health officials said they are very concerned with meeting the goals set by the state health department for a surge in patients. In a news conference Wednesday, Bookman outlined a series of critical steps — including more ICU beds, more ventilators, more capacity for lower-level patients — that the state needs to take to prevent the health care system from being overrun.
“It’s a tall order,” Mike Willis, the state’s director for the Office of Emergency Management, said in the conference call. “Scott (Bookman) was frank with the public yesterday. We’re very concerned. It’s a heavy lift, and lot of things have to come together rapidly. It places stress and demand on the supply system to provide enough equipment and the personnel system to provide enough qualified people.”
Willis said they have not begun construction on any overflow facilities yet, though they are speaking with several locations regarding contracting and leasing across the state.
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