San Miguel County’s shelter-in-place order was extended until at least May 1 last week. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

The second round of countywide COVID-19 antibody blood tests has been postponed indefinitely, officials announced Tuesday. The free, voluntary tests that c19 — a subsidiary of parent company United Biomedical Inc. (UBI) — provided to the county in an effort to help manage the pandemic locally aren’t being processed as fast as officials initially planned. Headquartered in New York, UBI’s staff has been cut by 40 percent due to the impact of COVID-19 in the state. There’s also a lack of supplies, including personal protective equipment.

“This is frustrating and disappointing, but we remain confident in our public health approach and are determined to get through this,” county public information officer Susan Lilly said.

When the partnership between the county and UBI was announced in mid-March, officials praised the test’s quick turnaround time for receiving results, which was supposed to be 48 to 72 hours. But the current backup has caused significant delays. Of the approximately 6,000 county residents that were tested during the first round, around 1,600 have received their results, 98 percent of which have come back negative. Officials also announced Tuesday the tenth positive case — a 41-year-old female who lives in the county — according to a swab test.

The plan was to test participants 14 days after the first blood draw, but now officials may not receive the results of the 4,000-plus remaining tests for weeks, according to county medical officer Dr. Sharon Grundy.

Grundy, along with other local officials, still believes the decision to partner with UBI in offering free countywide testing is the best plan moving forward.

“The data will provide us with a better understanding of the prevalence of the virus in our community and how those who were exposed to COVID-19 fared,” she said.

UBI co-owner Mei Mei Hu told county officials that the company aims to process as many outstanding tests per day as possible, starting Thursday or Friday. UBI officials were not immediately available to comment by press time Tuesday afternoon, but the company released a statement regarding the delay Monday.

“Like everyone right now, we’re trying to navigate our operations in these unprecedented times to the best of our ability. We understand the critical importance of timely test results and the immense stress that everyone is under, however industry-wide disruptions due to the COVID-19 epidemic — especially in New York State, where our facility and majority of staff are based — have led to an unexpected backlog in processing results,” it read.

“Our number one priority continues to be the public health safety of everyone in San Miguel County. We have processed the initial almost 2,000 tests and are working around the clock to process and deliver all remaining tests that are arriving. We thank everyone in San Miguel County for their support and efforts in this unique and historic undertaking, and urge everyone to closely follow all social distancing guidelines and recommendations from the county health department at this time.”

County public health director Grace Franklin, who determined that delaying the second round of tests was best, announced new public health orders last week, including extending the current stay-at-home order until at least May 1. Officials are discouraging travel outside of the county, especially if it’s for two or more days, and non-county residents from visiting.

The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners issued a joint statement Tuesday supporting Franklin’s decision.

“We accept and support our public health director’s decision to delay the second round of testing at this time. We understand the public concern and disappointment likely to stem from this announcement. The foundation of our approach to fight COVID-19 continues to depend on community-wide adherence to our current public health orders. We remain confident this is the most effective approach,” it read.

Grundy echoed that sentiment.

“At the end of the day, what we can control is our behavior. It is imperative that people stay at home, maintain physical distancing and wear face masks in public,” she said. “I have confidence that our county will pull through this health threat if we all do our part.”