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Exclusive: Gov. Polis Could Significantly Increase Coronavirus Testing With A Simple Rule Change

DENVER (CBS4) - A private lab in Colorado Springs could significantly increase COVID-19 testing capacity in Colorado if Gov. Polis would make a simple administrative change. Before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Colorado, Centennial State Lab was already preparing for what would become a crisis.

"We bulked up on collection devices, we bulked up on extraction kits and reagents, we bulked up on pipette tips," says lab owner Blake Whealy.

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(credit: CBS)

Whealy says the lab also designed its own COVID-19 test, which he says is 99.9% accurate and can tell you within 24 hours if you have the virus. The test was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 10.

"The day we got word, we were sitting in Gov. Polis' office. We wanted to let them know we're here, and we're here to help the community," says lab co-owner Ryan Thomas.

Thomas says, in order to help the community, they needed the governor to help them. They wanted him to change an administrative rule that requires patients with commercial insurance to use in-network labs in order to be reimbursed.

Quest and LabCorp are the two big in-network labs in Colorado and both have reported big backlogs in processing COVID-19 tests. Centennial is an out-of-network lab that accepts in-network rates.

Almost six weeks later, Thomas and Whealy are still waiting for the change.

"We've been hoping our phone rings for last thirty days," says Whealy.

CBS4's Shaun Boyd asked the governor about the lab when she sat down with him three weeks ago. The most tests the state and its commercial partners have processed in one day is 2,689. Centennial Lab can process up to 1,300 of its tests a day.

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(credit: CBS)

"1,300 a day would help, but it's not mass testing," Polis told Boyd.

"We don't quite understand why smaller privately-owned companies aren't being utilized," says Whealy.

Neither does Vice President Mike Pence. Boyd spoke with him exclusively on Saturday when he flew out for the Air Force Academy Graduation.

Pence has compiled a list of private labs in each state and given every governor - including Polis - a copy.

"It really is remarkable to see the way the public-private partnership that President Trump brought together," said Pence.

Vice President Pence Speaks At Air Force Academy Graduation In Colorado
CBS4 Political Specialist interviews Vice President Mike Pence. (credit: CBS)

Centennial still hopes it can partner with the state of Colorado. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the lab was testing for other types of coronaviruses. Thomas says the lab has an established relationship with a supplier and no shortage of tests.

"We want to do this testing for our community. We are a Colorado-based company and we love Colorado," says Thomas.

For now, Centennial is mainly processing tests for Medicaid and Medicare patients, but Whealy says they are hoping that by going public, any provider needing tests will call them. Centennial's test, he says, screens for a number of pathogens and 30% of those who've tested positive for COVID-19 at the lab have a bacterial infection as well.

Just before CBS4 aired this story, the governor's office contacted us to say it is now negotiating a contract with Centennial State Lab to do testing for the state. A spokesman says they didn't realize the lab had tens of thousands of its own swabs or tests.

To learn more about Centennial State Lab and their COVID-19 test, visit their website.

RELATED: Latest Updates On The Coronavirus Outbreak In Colorado

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