The waiting is the hardest part for Karen Davis.
The Mesa County resident was tested for COVID-19 more than 10 days ago and says she never received the results. She went back to Mesa County Public Health’s testing site Friday for another test and hopes for quicker answers.
Davis learned she had been exposed to the coronavirus after seeing one of her physicians who tested positive. Shortly after her visit, she said she felt feverish and fatigued, but wasn’t sure if it was a new illness or connected to her long-term illness.
Public Health reached out to her after her physician’s positive test came back, telling her she should be tested. This was one day after she had contacted the agency about a test on the recommendation of her doctor.
Not knowing Davis had been exposed when she first called, a Public Health employee said she didn’t meet the qualifications for a test, even though she had a pre-existing health condition that would put her in the high-risk category.
Tests have been difficult to come by, therefore limiting who can be tested. Tests may only occur through an order from a health care provider.
While waiting for results, Davis has been unable to attend other medical appointments related to having lupus, an autoimmune disease. She also said a friend who was exposed to COVID-19 by the same physician was tested and received the results within two days.
“It will be empowering for me to know my results,” Davis said.
As testing has increased, so has the backlog for processing, creating wait times of up to a week for results in some cases. Some get results within one to two days; others have waited around a week.
It’s an issue Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr hopes to see wane as capabilities improve.
About 80% of tests Mesa County Public Health conducted so far have come back and those who have waited a long time, like Davis, are getting new tests with the hope of a quicker result as the state has increased its processing capacity.
“Now, we’re to the point that if someone is hanging out there, we’re pulling them back in and retesting them,” Kuhr said.
When Mesa County Public Health conducts a test, it is sent to the state laboratory where it is processed. Someone at county Public Health waits for results and the patients are contacted with the news.
Kuhr said it’s possible a test could have gotten lost at the state level, but he hasn’t heard of that happening.
The elderly — people 65 and older — those with pre-existing conditions and health care workers are prioritized when given a test, Kuhr said.
Area hospitals are also conducting tests, but only for patients who are admitted to the hospital or referred by their health care providers. All others are directed to call Mesa County Public Health, and testing parameters are laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
For those who are awaiting results — and anyone who feels like they might have symptoms but have not been tested — Kuhr said they should isolate until their fever is reduced for 72 hours without the help of medication.
Mesa County is conducting about 25 tests per day, Kuhr said, but has the capability to do more. The issue is a shortage of tests.
However, the county is set to receive 1,500 tests from the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Those organizations announced Thursday that they would distribute 4,500 kits from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to Mesa, Larimer and El Paso counties to promote testing of first responders and health care workers.
All Mesa County Public Health tests are going through the state, Kuhr said.
These new tests from the state health department and the state Emergency Operations Center will be separated out.
Kuhr said the organization looked at other groups that could process tests, but couldn’t find a good fit.
Area hospitals may soon have the ability to process tests locally, which Kuhr said would be a great help.
“If we had the capability locally, that would be really good,” he said. “We’d love to do more. We would love to (test) people who don’t have symptoms. Unfortunately, we’re limited by supplies and lab capacity.”
Davis said she hopes the process improves the next time there is a public health crisis so people like her are not left in limbo.