If you want free rapid COVID-19 testing kits, you’re looking at a wait of two weeks or potentially longer right now due to high demand, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
When the state started offering the tests to the general public in September, waits of 14 days or longer for the free kits to be shipped to people’s homes were relatively common. Wait times dropped over the next few months as demand and supply came into balance, but started rising again in mid-December.
Free tests can be ordered online at covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-testing-at-home.
An unidentified spokeswoman for the state health department said orders started to spike around Dec. 19, when cases were just starting to rise again. Before that time, the state received an average of about 3,000 orders a day, but now it can get as many as 20,000 in a day, she said.
Between Nov. 29 and Jan. 2, the state shipped about 75,000 test kits to individuals. That’s somewhat behind October, when about 80,000 kits went out.
The state has started working with Amazon to try to increase shipments to Coloradans, but a two-week wait time may remain the norm for a while, the spokeswoman said. States are competing with each other and with private employers who are counting on the tests to help them determine who can safely work.
“There currently is unprecedented national demand for rapid at-home tests, and we are proud to be the first state in the nation to provide these tests for free to Coloradans,” the health department said in a statement. “To date, we have distributed more than 1.5 million tests to Coloradans.”
The free rapid tests are supposed to be used for screening, not for diagnosing yourself if you have symptoms. The idea is that if you test yourself twice a week, you may be able to identify an infection when you’re at your most contagious.
Rapid tests have given more false negatives with omicron than they did with previous variants, but they rarely give false positives. If a rapid test says you have COVID-19, you should stay at home and take other precautions as if you do.
If you have symptoms and need to know if COVID-19 is causing them, though, the best thing to do is to get a test that looks for the virus’s genetic material. About 150 sites around the state offer them, though people using those have also experienced delays.
A Denver Post reader shared an email he received from COVIDCheck Colorado advising anyone who hadn’t received their results within five days to consider scheduling another test for an up-to-date answer on whether they have the virus.
Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows people to leave quarantine five days after their symptoms begin, if they don’t have a fever and wear a mask around others. If tests take five days or longer to come back, people could be in the position of deciding whether to return to work without knowing what’s causing any symptoms they may still have. While most transmission happens in the first days of an infection, some people can shed the virus for 10 days or longer.
Joshua Posner, senior director of operations for COVIDCheck Colorado, said in a statement that the group has seen “unprecedented” demand for tests. COVIDCheck operates 26 sites in the Denver area and 21 in other parts of the state. Last week, they performed about 65,000 tests — close to double the 35,000 tests they handled in a typical week before the omicron surge, he said.
Most patients still get results within three days, but some have had to wait up to five days, Posner said.
“We understand how challenging it can be for those waiting to receive test results and in response to this lag, we diverted tests to even more partner labs in an effort to reduce the wait,” he said.
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