testing

Residents line up outside of the Telluride Middle/High School for their COVID-19 tests at the end of March. Officials announced that they will consider a second round of antibody blood tests in August. (Planet file photo)

The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners decided to delay moving forward with an immediate second round of free, countywide antibody blood testing during a recent. Officials opted to reassess the possibility of future testing in August, according to a county news release. At that time, public health officials and the commissioners will review several considerations, including what the best approach may be, the relevance of data in the second round, and the most current updates on testing sensitivity and specificity. In the meantime, public health officials will work on increasing access to PCR testing.

“As we begin the phased approach of reopening the economy, we would like to focus our efforts on keeping our community and visitors healthy,” San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper  said in the release. “After the summer months of increased visitors and increased exposure to the virus, we would like to use the second round of antibody testing to determine the number of our residents who have had the virus as we head into the fall and reopen our schools.”

The antibody blood testing initiative was a partnership between San Miguel County and United Biomedical Group (UBI) made possible by UBI’s donation of the test kits and lab processing. The testing was offered in late-March through early April, with the goal of detecting and containing community spread and providing a more accurate assessment of the county’s early disease prevalence.

Results from the initial round of testing indicated that out of the approximately 5,500 county residents tested, 0.5 percent tested positive, while 1.4 percent produced a borderline result, which is interpreted by UBI as a high negative; that may indicate that the individual is in the process of seroconversion. With a disease prevalence in the county of less than 2 percent, the incidence of infection was relatively low, officials said.

“We will always be grateful to UBI for the partnership they offered our county at a time when we were at our most vulnerable, and we continue to work with them to determine next best steps,” San Miguel Public Health Director Grace Franklin said.

The county currently still has 23 confirmed virus cases, according to the latest state data as of press time Tuesday afternoon. During a special county meeting at the end of May, Franklin said she felt confident in approving the new public health orders, which allowed lodging to reopen and restaurants to welcome back in-person business with restrictions, since the local response, including continued physical distancing and wearing a facemask in public spaces, has helped quell the spread.

“We’ve sustained a very steady caseload across the last few months,” she said. “I’m very confident right now that we are in a good place. It’s working so we should all be really proud of ourselves in the work and messaging that’s gotten across because it’s really moving us forward in a safe and reasonable way.”

Officials announced last week that a subcontractor based out of Montrose County tested positive for COVID-19 Friday. Montrose Public Health moved swiftly to identify and isolate all close contacts to this individual, according to a county news release.

“Affected construction sites were contacted to assess potential risk associated with the positive individual. It was determined that employees at all sites practiced appropriate physical distancing and mask use, in which public health concluded there was a low risk for staff outside of the subcontractor’s group,” according to the release.

Franklin explained during a special meeting last week that the county has “done literally hundreds of tests for COVID-19.”

“Over the past month we’ve done over 100 tests and have not had a positive since May 9,” she said. “It shows that strict precautions, mask use and limiting gatherings work.”