This article and photo first appeared in the Summit Daily on April 17, 2020.
FRISCO — Summit County officials are expecting to significantly expand testing for the new coronavirus among residents thanks to a new partnership with Vail Health.
Beginning next week, representatives with Vail Health will be conducting testing Tuesdays and Thursdays in Silverthorne. The move should help to drastically increase the number of Summit County residents being tested for the novel coronavirus, which could speed up the timetable for easing restrictions in the county’s public health order.
“It’s going to have a huge impact,” Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine. “Being able to gather that data and make sound, smart public health decisions based on actual test results is an enormous relief. … There’s a roadmap to recovery that’s being shared across the country that I think public health experts all agree on.
“There’s a number of things that you need in order to reopen communities in a safe way. One is demonstrating that there’s been a reduction in the presence of the virus over the course of at least two weeks. The other is that the hospital and local outpatient practices all have capacity. As we get more data and ensure that those pieces are in place, we’ll have so much more information for the public, which is what we’ve been hoping for all along.”
Since a visitor to Summit County was the first individual in Colorado to test positive for the new coronavirus March 5, the county has struggled to keep up with the growing demand for testing. To date, only about 249 people have been tested in the county at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, the Summit Community Care Clinic and through Stadium Medical’s mobile testing team.
The scene looks considerably different in Eagle County, where more than 2,100 individuals already have been tested. Earlier this week, county officials reached out to Vail Health directly asking for help. The organization responded immediately with a plan of action.
“Eagle County has done a really exceptional job in terms of widespread testing,” Vaine said. “… We’ve really struggled with access to tests and getting sites and providers to do testing. But Vail Health opened a number of special offices really focused on testing. There seems to be a philosophy that they embraced that the best way to understand if we were moving the needle at all was through mass testing, which we agree with.
“For us to be able to contemplate opening things back up in our community, we have to have good data to support that. We just haven’t had the testing capability to provide the data we need. But our neighbors have great testing capability and are testing more people per capita than any other community in the country. We reached out and got a response immediately. They said, ‘We’re in a much better place, and we’re here to help.’”
Beginning Friday, April 17, Summit County residents can email firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and phone number to set up an appointment. Representatives with Vail Health will then call residents, do a quick symptom screening over the phone and set up a testing appointment. Of note, tests are still being reserved for individuals exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, though individuals with even mild symptoms now are encouraged to get tested. Residents will no longer be required to receive a doctor’s order before being tested.
Vaine said that Vail Health would be providing the tests and likely would be able to test about 100 people a day, a vast improvement over the county’s current capacities. Testing will be done at Howard Head Sports Medicine in Silverthorne, part of Vail Health’s network.
Vaine also noted that the county is committed to making sure payment isn’t a barrier for anyone who needs to be tested and that uninsured residents won’t have to worry about testing expenses.
“This has been economically excruciating for people, and unbelievably stressful even for people who are still employed and getting paid,” Vaine said. “We are so grateful to the vast majority of people who have adhered to the public health order, and been patient and supportive of each other and the community through this crazy time.”