By: Chris Campbell, Emergency Management Coordinator
As cases of the highly contagious Delta variant continue to increase, prompt and accurate testing remains a vitally important tool for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Getting a timely test quickly identifies anyone who needs to isolate, allows Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) to start case investigation and contact tracing, and helps health care providers determine the appropriate treatment.
Partners and contractors of BCPH offer free tests throughout Boulder County and work with health care facilities and pharmacies to perform up to 2,000 tests a day.
Since February 2020, an estimated 281,000 tests have been administered across Boulder County at community testing sites — 174,715 in the City of Boulder, 99,054 in Longmont and over 8,000 through a Boulder Community Health Hospital mobile testing team.
The following individuals should seek testing in the time frames identified:
- Symptomatic individuals regardless of vaccination status: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing for anyone experiencing any sign or symptom of COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status or if they have been previously infected. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should get tested as soon as possible, stay home, isolate until they get their test results and follow the advice of their health care provider.
- Vaccinated individuals exposed to a suspect or confirmed case of COVID-19: All fully vaccinated people (regardless of whether they have symptoms) should get tested three to five days following known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Asymptomatic, fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask in indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until they receive a negative test result. Symptomatic people who are fully vaccinated and have a known exposure should quarantine and get tested within three to five days.
- Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals exposed to a suspect or confirmed case of COVID-19: Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals should get tested five to seven days after exposure and immediately quarantine for 14 days although quarantines up to seven days with testing may be permitted in some circumstances.
- Unvaccinated individuals who partake in high-risk activities: Anyone who is unvaccinated and has taken part in high-risk activities, such as travel, large social gatherings, or being in crowded indoor settings, should get tested within five to seven days after contact to ensure they are not spreading COVID-19 to those close to them.
Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should isolate immediately, regardless of vaccination status.
Full guidance on isolation and quarantine, including a chart identifying steps by vaccination status, is available at boco.org/IsolationandQuarantine.
Several types of tests are available to detect the virus that causes COVID-19. The PCR test, used by most medical providers and community testing sites, is the most accurate, but getting results can take time because samples must be sent to a laboratory.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) offers free at-home, self-administered Abbott BinaxNOW™ rapid antigen tests that provide results within 15 minutes.
Although at-home antigen tests are known to have a higher rate of false negatives (results come back negative, but the person tested may actually have the virus) they are highly sensitive, meaning that a positive test indicates the person tested very likely has COVID-19. Regardless of vaccination status, anyone who tests positive with an at-home antigen test should report the results to the BCPH call center, stay at home and immediately isolate. Anyone exposed to COVID-19 or is symptomatic should follow up any at-home rapid antigen test result (positive or negative) with a PCR test to confirm their results.
There are many convenient testing providers throughout Boulder County, including a number of locations that offer free tests. A complete list of testing locations in Boulder County is available at boco.org/covid19testing.
Anyone who is feeling sick should get tested, stay home, isolate themselves from others until they receive their test results and talk to their health care provider about the next steps.
Chris Campbell is Emergency Management Coordinator for Boulder County Public Health