Denver Health gets in-house coronavirus test, meaning results in 24 hours and safer frontline workers

The hospital is still short on some supplies, though.

Denver Health on Bannock in Lincoln Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Health on Bannock in Lincoln Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

Denver Health can now test up to 200 patients and health workers daily for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The hospital obtained the FDA-approved testing equipment Thursday night, said Connie Price, chief medical officer at Denver Health. It is believed to be the first hospital in the state to have such capacity.

In-house testing means patients can get results in 24 hours — rather than up to five days, which has been the turnaround at private and state labs that are inundated with samples, Price said.

“What it will allow us to do is more rapidly identify and isolate COVID patients and also more rapidly identify those patients who don’t have COVID but who we’re not sure about because of their symptoms,” Price told Denverite.

One upshot: the testing could help prevent spread because infected patients will know whether they have to quarantine themselves much earlier.

Another upshot: Doctors, nurses and other hospital workers can preserve precious protective equipment like masks and gowns, which are in short supply. Saffers have been treating COVID-positive patients the same way they’ve been treating COVID-negative patients, sometimes for several days. Ruling out negative patients earlier frees up staff — and protective equipment — to be used when it’s really needed.

But Price also said a shortage of testing swabs and reagents, the chemical mixture used to analyze the tests, could hinder their future efforts.

Denver Health’s ability to do their own tests is a significant step in the right direction for a city and state straining to combat the virus’s spread because it will protect frontline healthcare workers, the most important soldiers in the fight, said Julie Lonborg, vice president of communications for the Colorado Hosipital Association.

“We were very pleased when we heard that Denver Health was able to put together the supplies to run tests for themselves, Longborn said. “It’s great news.”

She said other hospitals, including Children’s and UC Health, aren’t far behind.

COVID testing is critical to protect the workforce but it’s not the only way to contain the virus. Earlier this week, state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said the means for more testing is necessary, but “an average person with mild symptoms doesn’t necessarily need to be tested.” Simply staying home while sick is the consistent message being pushed by state health officials.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, Denver had 67 known confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the total number of cases in Colorado reaching 363. Governor Jared Polis has said those numbers are significantly lower to the actual, unknown number of infected people in the state.

This article was updated to correct the name of the Colorado Hospital Association.

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