County records first positive blood test

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Fully recovered, Red Mountain lodge owner unsure how she contracted COVID-19

  • Andrea luppenlatz was the first Ouray County resident to test positive for COVID-19 with a blood test last week. She has recovered fully from the virus. Courtesy photo
    Andrea luppenlatz was the first Ouray County resident to test positive for COVID-19 with a blood test last week. She has recovered fully from the virus. Courtesy photo
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When the headaches, diarrhea and fatigue set in, Andrea Iuppenlatz thought she might have altitude sickness.

She and her husband, Mark, had returned to their home in Ouray on March 21 after spending some time at their cabin at 11,000 feet, and her symptoms were common with that illness.

When the horrible body aches began, she reasoned they might be the residual effects of the back surgery she underwent two weeks earlier.

It was only last week that she learned it was coronavirus.

The 57-year-old was the first Ouray County resident to test positive for COVID-19 through an antibody blood test. She was one of two new cases announced on May 8, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in Ouray County to seven. One county resident has died in the outbreak.

Iuppenlatz stepped forward to acknowledge she had tested positive for antibodies-blood proteins produced by the immune system to fight the virus — because she didn't want the public to think she was part of a new outbreak in the county. She fully recovered weeks ago.

But her symptoms — and her methods of coping with and treating the virus - illustrate how much the narrative and medical recommendations have evolved with coronavirus.

Iuppenlatz spent eight days in bed. A fever followed her body aches. She developed a cough later in the week of March 22, but it wasn't the dry, hacking variety medical experts cast as a warning sign. Cough syrup seemed to help tame it. Tests she performed at home showed her oxygen levels in her blood were normal.

"It didn't really parallel with all the things they were saying on the news," she said.

At the same time, "I was miserable. I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

But she followed the recommendations at the time of staying away from the hospital and doctor's office. She didn't call her doctor because she didn't have any respiratory d istress, and she didn't seek a nasal swab test because supplies were so limited. At the time, Mountain Medical Center in Ridgway had secured only 10 tests.

It wasn't until May 5 when she had a regular check up at Mountain Medical that she decided to get an antibody test.

"I felt like it was the responsible thing to do. I wanted to know," she said.

The test came back positive three days later. In her view, that's a good thing.

"The more people who have had it and gone through it and now are positive on the antibody test and a refine, that's actually a positive because people start to gain that herd immunity," she said.

Iuppenlatz said Mounta in Medical staff told her they didn't know how much the antibody test would cost her, and she has no idea if her insurance will cover it. She's waiting for the bill.

Mark served as her ca regiver while she was sick. They slept in the same bed and neither of them wore a mask, since it wasn't recommended at the time. He showed no symptoms but also wants to undergo the test.

Iuppenlatz said it would be "irresponsible" to guess how she was infected. In the weeks before she displayed symptoms, she underwent physical therapy, ate out at restaurants and carried on with life like everyone else. She and Mark own Red Mountain Alpine Lodge and plan to reopen it Memorial Day weekend.

Iuppenlatz and a 40-year-old man who tested positive last week are the county's first cases since April 17. A total of 93 tests have been performed on people who live in the county, including local tests and those conducted elsewhere.

Two types of tests are available to people in Ouray County through Mountain Medical, even if someone is not a patient at the clinic. The criteria for testing has expanded since the swab test was first offered, and now symptoms including sore throat and loss of taste or smell a rebeing considered to qualify for testing in addition to the initial criteria of fever, shortness of breath or cough.

The swab test is being used to detect active virus, and the blood antibody test is available from the clinic th rough Quest Diagnostics. The antibody test is not recommended for diagnostic purposes, but only research at this time by the Centers for Disease Control.

Erin McIntyre contributed to this report.