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Front-line workers, not showing symptoms, can get COVID-19 tests

Pre-emptive testing can help curb outbreaks, health officials say
The Fort Lewis College COVID-19 testing site will provide testing to people asymptomatic but in jobs that provide critical services to the community, such as law enforcement, fire protection, dispatch, teachers and people in government positions that interact with the public.

First responders, emergency personnel and people with other critical service jobs can now be tested for COVID-19, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms of the virus.

For months, La Plata County has had widespread community testing, but health officials asked that only people showing symptoms be tested in order to meet demand and capacity.

But research has shown COVID-19 can be spread by people who are asymptomatic.

In November, San Juan Basin Public Health approached Fort Lewis College and other partners to start offering testing to people asymptomatic but in jobs that provide critical services to the community.

“We know that testing our community for asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 plays a critical role in reducing disease prevalence and preventing the spread of the virus,” said Lauren Savage, spokeswoman for FLC. “In our partnership with SJBPH to expand our testing site to select community partners, we’re able to protect first responders, educators and other community members as well as increase our chances for returning to in-person learning in the spring.”

Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH, said FLC’s testing system on campus helped keep in-person learning open for months until a surge of cases caused the school to move to mostly virtual learning last month.

Now, with the campus mostly closed, the testing can be directed to people in jobs like law enforcement, fire protection, dispatch, teachers and people in government positions that interact with the public.

“We know that working from home is a great way to limit the spread of infection in a workplace,” Jollon said. “But these are people serving the community without the luxury of working from home.”

Anyone who qualifies for the asymptomatic testing will be notified through their work and be given instructions about how often they should get tested based on the level of risk of exposure in their work.

For some, that could mean once a week, Jollon said, and for others, perhaps once every two weeks.

“If Colorado is reporting, across the state, that one in 40 people is infectious, then anyone out doing a critical service has the potential of being exposed, and we want to catch those quickly before we expose a whole lot of other people in that workforce,” she said.

The asymptomatic testing is located on FLC’s campus and is a drive-thru site that takes nasal swabs. Results should arrive within 48 to 72 hours, Jollon said.

The site has the capacity for up to 300 tests a day. So far, about 100 people a day go to get tested, but the health department hopes that number increases as the site becomes more publicized.

“This is a real huge win for the community,” Jollon said. “We need to have fire protection. We need to have law enforcement.”

Calls to several first responder agencies were not immediately returned Thursday.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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