Broomfield City Council unanimously approved additional spending for COVID-19 testing through Advanced Urgent Care to purchase COVID-19 diagnostic testing services.
Public health officials also talked about plans to expand that testing beyond the current once-a-week scope and bring tests in-house.
Council approved an additional $105,000 of projected expenditures for 2020 and $60,000 projected expenditures in 2021 for a total of $225,000, spokeswoman Carolyn Romero said. All testing costs are covered by grant funds.
In their presentation to council Tuesday night, public health staff said they were also pursuing community-based testing that would include in-house testing, public health purchasing its own testing machine and testing kits and “pursuing continued collaboration with state and local agencies working to expand community testing options.”
Local health officials expect the new model to be in place by the end of the year, if not sooner, according to the memo.
No negative impact is anticipated on the budget since the expenditures are covered under current appropriations, according to the council memo.
Broomfield plans to submit costs before the end of the year to be reimbursed through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The 2021 expenditures will be offset with Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Enhancing Detection funding dispersed to local public health agencies by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, according to the memo.
On Tuesday, Broomfield saw it’s longest line at the free testing site at Broomfield Health and Human Services, which consisted of about 200 vehicles according to City and County Manager Jennifer Hoffman, and some reports were that the line went to the Home Depot and required two police officers to maintain traffic safety.
Public Health Director Jason Vahling said about a week ago Broomfield was seeing cases around 175 per 100,000 (looking at two-weeks ending Oct. 22). However, officials saw that significantly jump to the point where Broomfield is now at 251 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period.
Also concerning is that Broomfield exceeded the 5% threshold for percent positivity, Vahling said. Once that happens it indicates a community may not have enough testing or is experiencing community spread of the virus.
Broomfield experienced increases in case counts around the summer holidays, like other communities, but near the end of August it began to see a steady increase in the two-week case incidents, which is “obviously very concerning for us,” he said.
One slide he presented showed the positivity rate the past several months leading into the fall at 3 to 3.5%, Vahling said. Broomfield had been hovering for a period between 3 to 8 new cases a day, and aside from spikes from large testing events to labs “dumping” results, the city and county has seen a steady increase to the point they’re averaging between 8 to 12 new cases.
One reason for the increase is likely COVID fatigue, he said, and another is that in contact tracing interviews, public health officials are hearing people are practicing good prevention measures in public, but letting their guard down at home when they have extended family and friends over.
Another complexity is that people are in the community to the extent they are unsure where they could have contracted the virus.
“There’s a little bit of art and science,” he said. “It’s not a definitive answer.”
Currently Broomfield is on Level 2 of the state’s Safer at Home dial framework, which is intended to help local governments and Coloradans navigate and apply safety guidance throughout the pandemic.
Broomfield is in conversations with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about its mitigation plan. The agency has the ability to grant a further extension or move Broomfield to a more restrictive area on the dial framework.
Currently gyms are allowed to operate at 50% capacity or 100% if everyone can be physically distanced, Valhing said. If Broomfield moves to Level 3, indoor facilities would be closed expect for personal training by appointment. Some counties that moved to Level 3 have allowed gyms to operate at 35% capacity.
Retail stores and offices under Level 2 are able to operate at 50% capacity, and under Level 3 would operate at 25% capacity. Vahling said restaurants that operate at 50%, and 100% depending on the size of the venue, could go down to 25% capacity and 50% max.
The state’s dial does not mandate what schools need to do, but provides recommendations such as Level 2 meaning in-person, remove or hybrid options. Level 3 would suggest limiting in-person and going to remote or hybrid learning.
Broomfield officials rolled out a “Reverse the Trend” campaign Wednesday morning with the message “we’re all in this together,” Vahling said. It includes advice on personal gatherings, which the state recently limited to 10 people consisting of no more than two households.
Deb Federspiel, assistant director of Broomfield Public Health, said the demand for the weekly testing site has increased, with only about 37 residents taking advantage of the service the first time it was held in August. Last week they saw 169 residents.
Ward 2 Councilman Stan Jezierski was in favor of continuing the program Broomfield has and wants to increase the number of days they provide testing so people don’t have to wait 4 or 5 days to test and could potentially be infecting others in the community.
Vahling said that is why Broomfield is trying to bring testing in-house, which allows them to do more targeted testing and test on more days. Broomfield is not the only city using Advanced Urgent Care and had to schedule that one-day-a-week testing option.
Results from antigen tests can come within 15 minutes, Vahling said, but the downside is that if people are asymptomatic there could be false negatives.
Jezierski was in favor of holding testing three days a week, at least, and getting results right away.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Henkel expressed frustration that spread is happening on private property and yet there are discussion on closing down public places based on that. It is frustrating as a parent, she said, citing her daughter loves to swim and the youth who use the pool wear masks until right before they get in the pool and aren’t “leisurely hanging out” with others.
She said she called public health the other day on her neighbors who had “20 cars” parked outside their home. Henkel expressed worry about Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Epidemiology data lines up with what the literature says for high-risk settings, Vahling said, but not in other counties, so it’s not “black and white.” He thinks Broomfield’s messaging should be everyone needs to do whatever they can to keep businesses and schools open.
Colorado is in a better place than than some other states, Vahling said in response to a question from Ward 1 Councilwoman Elizabeth Law-Evans, which he thinks speaks to the values of Coloradoans who “band together” when faced with problems.
Law-Evans said she signed up for the COVID exposure notification app recently released by the state. She said to those felt the app was an intrusion or giving up their liberty, “if you’re worried about being tracked on your devices by this, you better throw the thing in the lake because you’re being tracked every minute of every day. At least this is tracking for a noble purpose” instead of using data to sell items.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Kimberly Groom, who talked about her own experience with contracting COVID, spoke out against the public shaming that is being done in regard to COVID. There is a percentage of residents who can probably be corrected when it comes to their behavior, she said, but going through it first hand she felt that some guidance from state public health officials has been misleading.
One example she gave was no one in her home ever had a fever, saying she learned that maybe less than 50% of cases have people showing a fever as a symptom.
People “are sick of being shamed,” she said, which contributes to COVID fatigue. There is also a fear factor with the message that “COVID equals death,” and that’s not the case for majority of people.
“This was similar to a head cold for me and my family,” Groom said.
Mayor Pro Tem Guyleen Castriotta said while she empathizes with anyone going through this, and is glad that Groom and her family are recovering, but the fact remains there are 226,000 people in this country who have died.
“People are dying. It’s not like everybody gets lucky,” Castriotta said.
When talking about leadership and miss-messaging, she claimed the worst source is coming from the leader of the country.
“I get sensitive when people try to downplay it,” she said. “Because this is the worst pandemic we’ve we’ve ever faced in our lives. It’s not personal, it doesn’t care what your affiliation is, it doesn’t care what age you are.”
“I can’t emphasize this enough — don’t take this lightly,” Castriotta said. “You don’t know if you’ll be lucky and survive.”
As of Wednesday morning Broomfield had 847 people test positive for COVID-19, 80 hospitalized to date and 41 deaths, according to the county’s COVID data dashboard.