Mar 17, 2022 - News

Colorado governor dials back COVID response, shuttering testing sites

Change in reported COVID-19 cases per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is washing his hands of COVID-19.

What's happening: Colorado will close 14 community testing and vaccine sites March 31 as it reduces its role in fighting the coronavirus. Other free testing sites operated by state and local contractors will remain open for now.

  • On Wednesday, the state stopped shipping at-home rapid tests to residents, telling Coloradans to instead request them through the federal government.

Why it matters: Hundreds of thousands of people relied on the convenience of at-home kits and drive-through sites in the fight against COVID-19.

  • Now, definitive PCR tests and vaccines — including booster shots — will need to come from battle-weary health care providers.

Between the lines: Although case rates have dropped dramatically, the Polis administration's shift comes at a dicey moment.

  • Coronavirus cases are surging once again in Europe and the trend may soon appear in the U.S. just as people unmask and resume once-risky public activities.
  • Colorado is even starting to see a slight increase in cases with the single-day and seven-day rates, per state data.
  • Only 51% of the state has received all three of the vaccine doses experts say are necessary to prevent severe disease.

Details: The governor began to dial back the state's response in February, declaring it was time to return to normal life with the retreat of the Omicron wave.

In addition to reducing testing availability, the state issued a new public health order Tuesday that no longer requires:

  • Daily reports of hospitalizations from COVID-19, opting instead for twice-weekly figures.
  • Face masks for all people in vulnerable settings, such as hospitals, homeless shelters and prisons, unless they are at medium or high transmission levels according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of note: The state will continue to operate mobile vaccination clinics through at least June 30, as well as pop-up sites for hard-to-reach communities of color.

What they're saying: The state remains focused on vaccine access, but new strategies are needed because demand is plummeting, ​​Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesperson Kristen Stewart told Axios.

  • Right now, the handful of community sites that administer vaccines are averaging 35 doses a day, down from 135 in January.
  • The state did not provide numbers of daily tests being conducted at the community sites.

The intrigue: The state will continue to pay vendors through June 30 but shift to mobile clinics.

  • Federal dollars pay for the testing and vaccine sites, but starting July 1 the reimbursement level will drop to 90%, putting the state on the hook for some of the costs.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new information about free testing sites run by state and local contractors that will remain open for now.

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