Commissioners to consider COVID-19 blood testing

  • COVID-19, courtesy Centers for Disease Control
    COVID-19, courtesy Centers for Disease Control

Ouray County Commissioners will discuss possible blood testing for COVID-19 antibodies at a special meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

"We want to hold a meeting to see if that's something we could feasibly do over here," said Tanner Kingery, Ouray County health department director. Kingery is part of the unified command for managing the disaster emergency, which now includes Ridgway Town Administrator Preston Neill, Ouray Police Chief Jeff Wood and County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd.

The public meeting announcement simply says the commissioners may convene as the board of public health to discuss possible testing. Kingery said the proposal is similar to the one undertaken in neighboring San Miguel County, which involved testing all the residents for antibodies. A biomedical company, UBI, partnered with the county to provide the testing, which includes collecting blood from all willing residents two separate times with a two-week break in between tests. Ouray County would use the same test if it decided to pursue this proposal.

Kingery said the tests are estimated to cost more than $200,000 and must be ordered in large batches - so the quantity needed here in Ouray County would be 9,600 tests. That's enough to test all the residents here twice, if they consented. Kingery said he collected information two days ago from one of the UBI owners and also spoke with San Miguel County's public health director about the process undertaken there for testing. 

The goal of testing people twice is to first identify whether they have antibodies to COVID-19. The second test, conducted two weeks after the first test, also has the same goal. There are three possible outcomes – people could test positive twice, indicating they have some immunity. They could test negative both times, indicating they haven't been exposed or contracted the virus. And they could test negative, and then positive, indicating they were exposed during the two-week period.

The logistics of conducting such a test here, in addition to funding the cost of the tests, is something Kingery said he has a lot of questions about. He doesn't know whether Ouray County could request help from the Colorado National Guard for testing, though the county responded it would like help with the traditional swab tests when the state inquired if Ouray County would like a five-hour testing opportunity like the one Montrose had on Monday. It's unclear when those swab tests may be available at this time.

The cost of providing tests to everyone in Ouray County amounts to roughly $21-$24 per test, Kingery said. It's unclear where the money would come from at this time.

"If we do pull this off, who pays for it?" he said, noting that the unified command members are currently exploring funding options and there are questions about whether some source of emergency funding is available through federal channels. It's also unclear what other policies may need to be considered if the testing is planned – including a possible shelter-in-place order to assure those who are tested are available for testing again two weeks after having blood drawn.

Kingery also said he has many questions about the possible testing process, who could be tested and how it would work, as well as wanting input from all the stakeholders here in the county.

"We need to take this up the chain and get everyone involved," he said. "This is a community decision."