Denver’s priority to reopen: 1,000 coronavirus tests per day and building the workforce to make it happen

And the city’s stay-at-home orders are officially extended through May 8.

Workers survey people in cars waiting to be tested at the Colorado Department of Health and Environment's COVID-19 testing station in Lowry. March 11, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Workers survey people in cars waiting to be tested at the Colorado Department of Health and Environment's COVID-19 testing station in Lowry. March 11, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

The city has the capacity to provide 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day, but public health executive director Bob McDonald said Friday it’s still working on getting the workforce in place to provide citywide testing.

McDonald said during a press conference the city is building out a workforce to help provide the testing. The announcement coincided with the city officially confirming it was extending the stay-at-home order through May 8.

That workforce will include some 100 people who will be trained in the next few weeks to provide the testing. Providing more testing is a big part of the city’s plan to slowly phase out restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this week, Gov. Polis downplayed the importance of testing, saying social distancing and mask-wearing were also crucial to spreading the virus. The state’s stay-at-home orders ends Monday.

Mayor Michael Hancock said Denver Health will offer tests, as will sites throughout the city and metro area, within the next two and a half weeks.

“Hopefully we’ll make it real convenient for residents all over the city to get tested,” he said.

McDonald said early on, the federal government suggested that people avoid rushing into hospitals to get tested so as to not overwhelm hospitals or spread the disease in those settings. But McDonald said some residents are avoiding hospitals altogether or hesitating to visit them, leading to more people who are unaware that the city has the capacity to provide testing.

The city is gearing up to get the word out and “more aggressively” market its capability, McDonald said.

“The systems are set up to take many more people to get that testing done,” he said. “We’re ready to take more people for that. We’re setting up the protocol and messaging for that.”

On Monday, Polis said the state will be shifting from stay-at-home orders to a “safe-at-home” phase as the statewide orders expire. Both Hancock and Polis recommend people continue wearing a mask when going out and following social distancing guidelines. There will also be some gradual reopening for certain businesses.

Denver has been a bit ahead of the state for its orders from the start, enacting its restrictions days before the state. The city’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 24 — the state’s order wouldn’t take effect until March 26 — and was supposed to end on April 10 before the city extended them to April 30.

Other metro-area counties are extending their stay-at-home orders. Jefferson County announced it is extending to May 8, while Tri County Health Department said it’s considering extending orders for Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties.

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