Hundreds already taking the test
By Mark Reaman
Describing the current period in the local coronavirus situation as being in “a bit of a lull,” Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom indicated the incident command team is gathering data and planning for the long-term. “We are working to build our infrastructure in case there is a resurgence of the virus this summer or fall. It is an opportunity to get prepared.”
A key part of that preparation is to gather and analyze as much data as possible. This week the focus turned to antibody testing available at the Gunnison Valley Hospital and other local clinics.
“According to Jodi Leonard (of Gunnison Valley Health), GVH administered a little under 400 antibody tests so far and 77 positives were recorded that indicated those people had COVID-19 at some point in the past,” Sandstrom said. “About 250 tests came back as negative and we are still waiting on some results for about 50 tests.”
Sandstrom said because other clinics were using antibody tests, the county was trying to gather all the results and delineate them so that data made sense. The goal is to determine if some antibody positives were in people who had previously tested positive for actively having the virus. He said while a positive result was pretty accurate in determining if a person has had COVID-19, there were issues with a negative result. A “false negative” was more likely than a “false positive” and Sandstrom noted that some people who tested negative may have had the virus but hadn’t mounted a strong enough immune response to trigger a positive result.
“We are trying to tie all the new data with the county’s current data but we don’t have exact numbers yet,” Sandstrom explained. “We want true numbers and don’t want to count duplicates for example. Dr. Hannah Heinrich has created a secure patient database to clear up all the numbers. We are weeding through the information to get clear data. There is a lot to sift through to centralize it. We hope to have it by the end of the week.”
Sandstrom described the availability of the antibody testing as “a step toward true community testing. It will help drive a better understanding of how many people in the county have been infected. Better and more testing gives us better and more data.”
Sandstrom wanted to emphasize that having a positive result on the antibody test does not mean a person has immunity. “It only tells you that a threshold was hit that the body mounted a response against COVID-19. It doesn’t tell you how much protection you have. There is so much that is not known about this thing. In the same light, just because you tested negative doesn’t mean you didn’t have it.”
While the new antibody tests are “informing” the county, Sandstrom said the data isn’t yet at the point where the numbers are influencing decisions.
“We aren’t sure what pattern COVID will follow,” he said. “Will it come back or is it done? No one knows. We are still preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We are taking this lull period as an opportunity to prepare for the long term.”
Sandstrom said Gunnison County public health director Joni Reynolds is keeping an eye on infection numbers as the county begins to relax restrictions and open back up. Her recent public health orders reflect some of the variances the county asked for from the state. “We are hoping to hear from the state very soon,” said Sandstrom. “Part of Joni’s goal is to give local businesses the opportunity to function and operate during this normally slow time so they can get used to the new health protocols before a wave of tourists come in, hopefully this summer.”
The county’s marketing arm, the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, has started a campaign to attract visitors to the valley starting in June. The message from the county is that people are looking for places that offer open spaces and safety. Time will tell if it works.