Gov. Polis, Mayor Hancock unveil massive coronavirus testing site at Pepsi Center

The testing could be key in helping reopen the city and state’s economy.

Michael Odom (left) and Takahiro Beachum, employees of Denver Police's crime lab, work a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Michael Odom (left) and Takahiro Beachum, employees of Denver Police's crime lab, work a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Gov. Jared Polis joined Mayor Michael Hancock in Denver today to announce a free, drive-up COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center parking lot for people throughout the metro area.

Hancock said the site will provide up to 500 nasal swab tests per day once it opens Friday. The mayor took the test following the announcement.

He mentioned the importance of testing people to isolate those who are infected. The results for the tests should be available in three days. A doctor’s note is not required to get tested at the site.

Hancock said city can conduct up to 1,000 tests per day, some carried out by a mobile testing unit available for people who can’t leave their homes or who don’t have access to transportation.

“Opening up the economy safely means testing,” Hancock said. “Without a national strategy to help us get this done, states and cities have stepped into the breach to get this done.”

The city is encouraging people who want to be tested at the Pepsi Center to register at denvergov.org or call 311. They must have at least one COVID-19 symptom.

Mayor Michael Hancock sticks a cotton swab into his nose at a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mayor Michael Hancock sticks a cotton swab into his nose at a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Newly-appointed Public Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson said $3.5 million from federal CARES funds given to the city was used to pay for the site and testing. Robinson said the city could spend more money on it.

“If thousands and thousands of people show up, we can scale this up,” Robinson said. “We are prepared to scale this up to meet the demand.”

The announcement comes weeks after Denver transitioned from stay-at-home orders to a safer-at-home phase and businesses were allowed to reopen with restrictions. The city has also issued face-covering requirements for people visiting retail and commercial businesses.

Polis said there are 34 free community testing sites in the state providing fast testing.

“Forgot about those early days where you saw several hours waits in line,” Polis said. “You’ll be in and out in 15, 20 minutes at this testing site and others.”

The city opened a large-scale, free, drive-up COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The city opened a large-scale, free, drive-up COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

CU Boulder computer science professor Daniel Larremore has studied the dynamics of infectious diseases like malaria, though he’s now focused on COVID-19.

Larremore said the kind of large-scale, free testing Denver unveiled today is key to fully reopening the state’s economy.

“So the widespread availability of tests changes the game and allows cities and states like Denver and Colorado to start to use the testing to directly reduce transmission, instead of using the testing to make sure that COVID patients are correctly classified by the health care system,” Larremore said.

Since COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, can be spread from people not showing any symptoms, Larremore said it’s important to be able to identify people who are asymptomatic or are even pre-symptomatic. That way, they can isolate at home and keep from spreading the disease to others.

However, testing at the Pepsi Center won’t be for people who are asymptomatic. Denver Public Safety spokesperson Kelli Christensen said it’s possible testing could be scaled up to eventually include those who are asymptomatic.

Takahiro Beachum, a Denver Police crime lab employee, holds a cotton swab at a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Takahiro Beachum, a Denver Police crime lab employee, holds a cotton swab at a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Takahiro Beachum, a Denver Police crime lab worker, watches from afar as Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis announce a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Takahiro Beachum, a Denver Police crime lab worker, watches from afar as Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis announce a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

At the onset of the pandemic, Larremore said testing focused on the sick to make sure they got the right care. But he said that approach wasn’t helpful toward stopping further transmission of COVID-19. He added testing at a large space like the Pepsi Center will make it easier for more people to get tested.

Denver expects a $226 million revenue shortfall due to the pandemic and is already preparing for a second wave this fall. Some 9,000 city employees must take eight furlough days this calendar year.

The latest COVID-19 figures from Denver Public Health show the city has 4,807 cases and 242 deaths. Denver Public Health’s data shows cases reported daily are falling week-to-week, with at least 216 cases reported this week compared to 690 during the first week in May.

A new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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