By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4) – Behind the scenes of many testing and vaccination sites over the past 14 months has been a little-known organization acting as the bridge connecting government agencies, businesses, and the community. With decreasing demand for vaccinations, COVID Check Colorado is winding down part of its mission, but it’s not finished making a difference in neighborhoods throughout the state.

“We were in business to put ourselves out of business so to speak. We wanted to deliver the most proactive and equitable response to COVID-19 in the country,” said COVID Check Colorado CEO Eric Parrie. “We were a convener that brought together labs, software companies and public institutions to say, ‘We’re all doing really important work, but we’re not doing it together.’ COVID Check can be the glue that can bring us together so that each of us can do our best work for a community that needs us.”

(credit: CBS)

COVID Check Colorado was set up by Gary Community Investments, a Denver nonprofit. At the height of the pandemic, the organization was employing 1,500 people to run sites for testing, vaccinations, even street teams handing out information about the virus.

“We’ve administered over 825,000 COVID-19 tests, delivered 325,000 vaccines and gone door to door, store to store and reached out through social media and internet channels to let folks for what they need to know about testing and vaccines,” Parrie said.

On Wednesday, the first vaccination site to open, inside a parking structure on the Auraria campus, gave out the final doses of vaccine. It’s the last mass vaccination site COVID Check Colorado operated to close down.

“It’s been a very emotional ride for sure, but one I’m very blessed for,” said Kurstin Penning, a regional manager for COVID Check Colorado. “We came here, we did our job helping out the community. Opening up this venue in particular was our very first site, and now it is closing and being our very last site has been a successful journey that I will take with me.”

(credit: CBS)

Penning was hired in September with only a guarantee to work for two months. She started out conducting tests and sticking swabs in people’s noses. She worked her way up the organization in a few short months to run the Auraria site.

“We’re helping out loved ones and people being able to get back with their families. Taking that with us and knowing that was something we played a big part in is something we’ll hold on to for the rest of our life,” She said.

“This has really been a story of frontline heroism, literally thousands of people have joined this effort on the hottest and coldest days of the year. These folks have taken it on and delivered best in class service and just really heartfelt care to hundreds of thousands of people. We’re actually able to come out here and hug and high five without fear of infection because of the work they’ve done day in and day out,” Parrie said.

There are likely hundreds of people who were employed that learned valuable skills in leadership and public service.

With the pandemic still lingering, COVID Check Colorado is shifting focus from vaccinations back to testing. It’s planning to ramp up availability, as the school year approaches to keep teachers and kids safe.

“It’s still a critical tool for fighting this disease. COVID has not disappeared. We’re on the winning side of this fight, but it’s not over,” Parrie said.

Jeff Todd