(This story has been updated from the original post at 12:15 p.m. Friday and was again updated after the county's first positive COVID-19 case was announced.)
The Colorado National Guard will arrive in Montrose Monday to help conduct epidemiological testing in wake of the coronavirus-19 (COVID-19).
The National Guard has been hitting spots around the state to help those who have medical referrals for such testing have samples taken. People need doctors’ orders for the test and appointments; drop-ins cannot be accommodated.
“The Colorado National Guard is helping in the statewide COVID-19 response,” said Greg Dorman, the resource and legislative director for the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He spoke Thursday night, during a telephone town hall with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and other officials.
The Guard responds to requests for help from the state emergency operations center and although it is ready to respond to other situations, right now, its focus is assisting the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment with COVID-19 testing sites. The Guard was previously in Telluride and Pueblo for similar testing.
“This is a scheduled event, that gives a sense of how prevalent COVID-19 is in each community,” Dorman said.
“The more testing we can get, the better off we are,” Montrose County Manager Ken Norris said.
At last report, 56 tests had been conducted of Montrose County residents, with one positive result recorded Friday afternoon. There is a days-long backlog at the lab conducting the testing, so the county was already operating as though there was COVID-19 in the community.
“ ... we do feel the more we can test, the better off we are,” Norris said Friday morning, prior to the positive result coming in.
The county in a news release said about 70 people from the CDPHE and National Guard arrive in town Sunday to set up for testing; they will also be here Monday as testing is in progress.
The testing will occur at the Montrose County Event Center; 100 residents are being selected based on various risk factors, symptoms and state requirements for data collection. Local providers and public health experts are coordinating the process. Again, people cannot just drop by and request a test; they must be prescreened. Anyone experiencing cough, fever and shortness of breath should contact his or her primary care provider.
“We are doing our best to provide as many testing resources as possible to our community,” said Incident Commander and Montrose County Emergency Manager Scott Hawkins, in the news release.
“The pre-screened tests will allow our most vulnerable and potentially ill residents to be tested in an efficient manner and provide timely results. If we could test more people we would, but testing is very limited at this time.” He also thanked Montrose Memorial Hospital for its assistance in the effort.
Later Friday, during a video update, Hawkins reiterated that people should not just show up for testing. “We’re doing 100 tests. Those are tests for prescreened, qualified (people). Please don’t show up if you have not gone to your provider and gotten (a referral). The supply across the country is just so limited,” he said. The county was working on a list of people to contact, based on provider assessments.
“Please don’t just show up expecting to get a test,” Hawkins said.
Montrose County was able to be in line for Colorado National Guard and CDPHE assistance with the help of Montrose Memorial Hospital, Hawkins said.
“It’s important to remember that 80 percent of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms,” said Montrose County Public Health Medical Adviser Dr. Joe Adragna, also in the news release.
“None of these results will change our clinical management, but will provide valuable public health data. If you have a cold, cough or a fever, please self-isolate for 14 days, and treat your symptoms.”
Although the appearance of the Colorado National Guard may take some people by surprise or cause concerns, its work here Monday is “pretty routine,” Norris said, telling the public no one should be alarmed.
“They were in Telluride. They can’t do that (testing) everywhere, but if that’s a service we can take advantage of for a little while, that’s just an extra tool we have,” said Norris.
“There is no threat to public health or safety,” said Montrose Commissioner Keith Caddy, in the news release. “Now is a time to remain calm and come together as a community.”
Montrose County already declared an emergency over COVID-19 and under the declaration, county buildings are closed to the public, while business is taking place by phone or online, when possible. There are visitor restrictions and extra cleaning at the jail, as well as extra cleaning at Montrose Regional Airport, which remains open.
“At a local level, we’re good to go,” Norris said. “We think we have plenty of safeguards in place right now. We’re following the government guidelines, which change daily. We think that is more than adequate to protect everybody.
“We’re in it for the long term and, hopefully, we won’t be working remotely for a long time.”
If you have symptoms and you are otherwise healthy, self-isolate for 14 days and treat your symptoms.
If you have symptoms and you are high-risk (over 65;have a pre-existing condition such as heart, kidney or lung disease, or are immune-compromised), call your provider (or use patient portal if one is available).
If you are asymptomatic but have had contact with someone who is sick, you will not be tested and you do not require medical care. Instead, you should self-quarantine for 14 days to see if you develop symptoms.
If you are asymptomatic, you will not be tested and do not require medical care. Avoid contact with sick people, limit exposure in public places and continue best practices to do your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).