110420-COVID testing-CPT

Christopher Tomlinson/The Daily Sentinel

Hundreds of vehicles wait Wednesday morning at the Mesa County Fairgrounds before the COVID testing site opened.

When the Grizzly Creek Fire burned through Glenwood Canyon and brought Interstate 70 travel to a multi-week halt, Mesa County faced increased difficulty in transporting its COVID-19 tests to Colorado’s state laboratory for results.

Knowing the county could face similar struggles this winter with I-70 winter weather closures, Mesa County Public Health officials began pushing for other methods for getting their results, methods that wouldn’t be limited by poor road access to the Front Range. Now, those fears over I-70 have been rendered largely irrelevant.

Instead of relying on the state lab in Denver, many coronavirus tests for Mesa County residents are being processed in Texas or North Carolina.

“We’re in the process of trying to acquire some testing equipment so that we don’t have to fall victim to bad weather and couriers not being able to travel the passes, but our two main tests right now are flown overnight to the testing facilities,” said MCPH Executive Director Jeff Kuhr. “The fairgrounds test, that is the nasal swab, those samples leave every day out of Grand Junction Regional Airport and they fly to North Carolina overnight. We started to include the curative tests, an oral swab we’re doing at the fairgrounds as well, and those get shipped to San Antonio. They have three labs, but I believe the one we use is in San Antonio. Those are flown overnight, as well.”

In the beginning of the pandemic, Mesa County’s results went exclusively to Denver. Each day, a courier would leave the Western Slope at 3:30 or 4 p.m. with local COVID-19 tests. At this point, Mesa County still relies on Denver for some of its test results, but those results are for a small percentage of local tests. The rest go out of state.

While the winter weather shouldn’t dampen test shipments too much, county health officials have been working to make sure the cold isn’t too much of a burden on those administering tests.

“Remember, we had that cold day a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday when we had some snow?” Kuhr said. “That was a blessing in disguise because we realized how cold it is under the grandstand at the Fairgrounds, so we worked with the Mesa County Facilities Department and there’s a heater system that hasn’t been fired up for 35 years. That’s now operable. We’re prepared, even at the testing site, for the colder days, as well.”

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