COVID-19 Second Round Testing Delayed

COVID-19 Second Round Testing Delayed

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San Miguel County Department of Public Health and Environment recommended to the Board of County Commissioners today that the second round of COVID-19 blood tests be delayed indefinitely due to United Biomedical Inc.’s (UBI) considerable reduced ability to process the tests due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will continue to evaluate whether or not it makes sense to pursue the second round of testing given the unexpected obstacles UBI’s lab is facing.” Grace Franklin, Public Health Director said.

The Board of County Commissioners issued the following statement Tuesday morning: “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.”

The County entered a partnership with UBI to provide free, voluntary blood antibody tests in mid-March. The tests were considered a welcomed tool in the fight against COVID-19 by both county health, and given nearly 6,000 participants in the first round, most of the community.

“The combination of being able to acquire disease prevalence data and initiate early, effective public health measures could give us an opportunity to have a more informed process to recovery,” Franklin said.

UBI told county health officials that unexpected delays in processing the first round of tests is likely to continue as their lab is in “the epicenter” of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.  Company officials said their staff is down 40% and access to necessary supplies, including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), has been compromised to adequately process thousands more tests within a clinically relevant time. Approximately 1,600 of the nearly 6,000 tests have been processed.

“This pandemic has created unprecedented strains on whole systems, from PPE, to tests, to healthcare staff, and this lab is a part of that crunch,” Dr. Sharon Grundy, County Medical Officer said. “They are experiencing a bottleneck in their capacity to adequately process lab result in a reasonable amount of time.”

UBI said it plans on processing as many as possible tests per day of the estimated 4,400 outstanding test results, starting Thursday or Friday of this week. Mei Mei Hu, one of the company’s owners told county officials that in addition to manpower obstacles, “other priorities in the lab have added to the delays.”

“The delay in results is extremely disappointing, but it is not surprising when you consider the current state of our country due to this pandemic,” Dr. Diana Koelliker, Director of Emergency Services for the Telluride Medical Center said.

Dr. Grundy and Dr. Koelliker said they stand by their original decision to recommend that the county partner with UBI to be the first county in the country to participate in the blood antibody testing:

“We were and we will continue to aggressively explore testing opportunities that could be a useful tool for public health to help our community,” Dr. Koelliker said.

Dr. Grundy said that although the results of the first round will be weeks late, they still have value:

“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 faired.”

Franklin added, “These are circumstances beyond our control. We don’t think it’s in the county’s best interest to invest in the time, manpower and supplies needed to retest nearly 6,000 people when there is tremendous uncertainty as to when and if we’d get those results back.” 

“Let’s remember that testing is one of the tools we have in this fight. The foundation will always be our behavior – the stay at home and physical distancing measures, and best hygienic practices. We want to buy enough time for drug treatments or a vaccine to come down the pipeline,” Dr. Grundy said.

Though UBI offered the test and processing free, the county incurred tens of thousands of dollars of expenses in manpower, supplies and associated expenses to execute the first round of testing. UBI is working with the county to cover as much, if not all of these costs.

“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,” Dr. Grundy said. “I have confidence that our county will pull through this health threat if we all do our part.”

“We want to let everyone know how proud we are of their extraordinary efforts to pull this enormous and unprecedented operation off in a very short window of time.” San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters and Telluride Fire Protection District Chief John Bennet of Unified Command said. “This proves that the people of San Miguel County will rise to the occasion to do what they believe needs to be done, and we are  extremely proud of and grateful for them.”

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