Summit County resident waits 5 days for positive test result from ‘overwhelmed’ state lab
Editor’s note: The Summit Daily News is unable to independently confirm individual test results.
DILLON — Part-time Breckenridge resident Michael Murphy waited five days for his COVID-19 test results, which came back positive Tuesday, he said. Murphy is suspected to be counted among three new cases Summit County reported Tuesday.
The Silverthorne Recreation Center employee who was tested last week also received a positive test result Tuesday. The employee was tested in Grand County, so it is unclear whether they are counted among the new cases in Summit.
The additional cases confirm for the first time that community spread is happening in Summit County, according to a release from the local public health department.
Murphy, who is 54, said his symptoms began late March 7 and that he was tested March 12 at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco after his symptoms worsened. Throughout the process, Murphy said he was told his results would take anywhere from two to five days to be returned.
Murphy said he has spoken with a physician’s assistant at the hospital as well as Summit County Public Health officials, who asked questions about where he’d been and when.
“I found them very helpful in trying to address the situation,” he said.
Murphy described his illness as typical flu-like symptoms with a mild fever “that made for a rough night.” He said he then developed respiratory symptoms that worsened for a couple of days, leaving him short of breath. That’s when he suspected he might have COVID-19.
Murphy, who’s a seasonal resident of Summit County, plans to return home to Illinois on Wednesday. His said his travel has been cleared by the local public health department because he is no longer symptomatic.
Murphy expressed frustrations about the delay in getting his test results, wondering why people should even be tested if their self-isolation period could potentially expire before results are received.
“(I) don’t understand how county and state officials can assess the COVID-19 issues — and attempt to make decisions about preparation, care and safety — when they are operating with information that is a week old.” Murphy wrote in an email Tuesday.
Currently, only those who are 60 and older or have underlying health conditions will be tested, according to Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland. Health care workers and first responders also will be tested, she said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, five cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Summit County with 39 pending tests, but health officials caution the true number is likely much higher.
Murphy echoed that sentiment Tuesday: “You’re going to see a rash of positive tests for the county starting today and tomorrow, I think.”
State lab ‘overwhelmed’
The volume of testing for the COVID-19 virus has overwhelmed the Colorado public health lab, the state public health incident commander for the disease admitted Monday.
“We are doing everything we can at the state lab to work through the backlog,” incident commander Scott Bookman said. “The volume of testing that has been required in response to this incident has been overwhelming. We have not had as much support from our private partners as we expected to have.”
Bookman said the state lab can process about 250 tests a day. Even though the state lab is working 24 hours a day and hiring more staff, it simply cannot keep up with the demand as the outbreak spreads across the state and particularly into hard-hit mountain areas.
Bookman said even private labs in Colorado are taking multiple days to process tests.
“The volume of testing continues to overwhelm the capacity of any of our systems,” Bookman said. “The turnaround times of our state lab are several days now, and turnaround times at LabCorp and Quest continue to also be three to four days. That is a weakness in the system.”
The state on Monday announced the hiring of 50 new nurses from the Freedom Health Care Staffing Co., trained in providing care in crisis situations. They will be staffing testing and health care facilities around the state and are funded in part by some of the $3 million from the Disaster Emergency Fund freed up by Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order.
Also Monday, the state sent a mobile lab and the National Guard to Telluride to begin surveillance testing of an area that hasn’t yet been hit as hard as Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, where the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Sunday strongly recommended social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Bookman was asked why the state is prioritizing mobile testing in Telluride and not Eagle County, where community spread has been confirmed and the hospital is awaiting results from more than 200 tests.
“The reality of it at this point in the Eagle County area is that there is widespread community transmission, and the goal of the mobile lab is to go to other locations to inform our epidemiologists on potential growing areas of spread so that we can put the appropriate resources in the appropriate places,” Bookman said.
The mobile lab and National Guard will head to Routt County, home of Steamboat Springs, later in the week to try to get a better sense of where the disease is spreading.
Locally, people need to hunker down and limit their contact to immediate family members, officials said.
David O. Williams contributed to this story for VailDaily.com.
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