Colorado ranks last in nation for COVID-19 testing: Problem Solvers Investigation

DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado now ranks 50th of out of 50 states when it comes COVID-19 testing on a per capita basis. According to the website Worldometer, which tracks COVID-19-related statistics, Colorado has tested 73,161 people per one million residents.  

Rhode Island ranks first with 287,692 tests per million residents, followed by New York with 256,994 tests per million residents. 

“We’re not on the right foot,” said Alec Williams, who shares Colorado stats daily through Twitter.

“Right now you’re trying to shine a flash light in a dark room,” explained Williams, “We have 7% of our population tested so far and if you can only get 7% of a room, you’re not going to have a real good idea of what’s in there.”

Guidelines set forth by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) suggest the state needs to test at least 152 people per day per 100,000 residents. Last week, Williams noted Colorado only tested 110 people a day per 100,000 residents, on average.

“The only way that we can reopen and go back to normal is to fully know who is sick and who is not.”

 “Until recently we were in good shape,” said Glen Mays, a professor of health policy at the Colorado School of Public Health.

Mays warned a lack of testing could slow the state’s recovery.

“We know that testing is a key ingredient in getting this virus under control, in safely reopening the economy,” Mays said.

The CDPHE told the Problem Solvers the key indicator isn’t the number of tests performed — it’s the percentage that test positive.

In an email, the Colorado State Joint Information Center told FOX31:

“If the rate of positivity is high, it indicates that only the obvious cases are being tested, and that does not help epidemiologists track the spread of the virus. Our positivity rate hovers around 4.86 percent, which indicates we have sufficient testing capacity and are testing enough of our population to determine how the virus is spreading. With 50 community testing centers across the state, coupled with private providers and hospitals, we have vastly increased our testing capacity in Colorado and are continuing to work to further increase that testing capacity.”

But just two hours after sending that email to the Problem Solvers, CDPHE released new COVID-19 stats for Colorado showing the state’s positivity rate had just hit 5.11%.

Later Friday evening, the state sent the following statement about the positivity rate:

“Our positivity rate has slightly exceeded 5 percent in our 3 day average, which is indicative of our increasing cases. As (state epidemiologist) Dr. Herlihy noted yesterday, the increases are alarming, so we are watching them closely. This is a good reminder to everyone to wear a mask, socially distance, and gather only with small groups. We must work together to stop the spread of this virus.”

“We can’t respond to prevent transmission if we’re not testing large numbers of people and getting those results quickly. The turnaround time is another element that we’re struggling with in Colorado,” said Mays.

Even neighboring states like New Mexico and Utah have tested more people for COVID-19 than Colorado, yet their populations are much smaller.