COVID-19 update: Testing to be offered in Montrose County on Monday; no word on Ouray County

  • Courtesy Centers for Disease Control
    Courtesy Centers for Disease Control

Update as of 1:30 p.m. Friday:

Montrose County has been selected as one of the surveillance sites where COVID-19 testing will be done, county officials announced this afternoon.

Testing will be conducted Monday at the Montrose County Event Center. A total of 100 Montrose County residents will be selected to be tested based on various risk factors, symptoms and state requirements for data collection. Local health care providers and public health experts will make the selections.

County officials say those who will be selected will be pre-screened. Residents cannot request the test in person at the testing site.

“We are doing our best to provide as many testing resources as possible to our community,” Incident Commander Scott Hawkins said in a statement. “The pre-screened tests will allow our most vulnerable and potentially ill residents to be tested in an efficient manner and provide timely results. If we could test more people we would, but testing is very limited at this time. Thank you to Montrose Memorial Hospital for assisting with this effort and working diligently to protect the public health of our community.” 

Approximately 70 people from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the National Guard will arrive in Montrose Sunday to begin setting up for testing. There will be increased law enforcement presence on Monday as testing is in progress.

State health officials announced earlier this morning they would conduct tests for the new coronavirus in additional communities in the coming days but didn't immediately announce which ones, other than to say a drive-through testing site would be set up in Salida. The Plaindealer has left a message with the state health department seeking additional information.

Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery told the Plaindealer this afternoon he has not heard anything from the state about whether Ouray County will be included in those additional testing sites. County officials said earlier this week they didn't expect testing kits to arrive in Ouray County until early to mid-April.

Update as of 11 a.m. Friday:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced this morning they are sending COVID-19 testing resources to communities that have not yet had testing, but did not immediately announce which ones.

State health officials aid they will offer a temporary drive-through testing site at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds in Salida on Saturday. The site is open only to Chaffee County residents.

The department said they will send testing resources to other locations next week, prioritizing areas that "have no been highly tested to better understand where the disease is occurring and respond," according to a news release. The testing sites will serve high-risk patients who have been pre-selected by area health care providers. Walk-up or drive-up patients will not be accepted, according to health officials.

Ouray County officials said earlier this week they have ordered tests for the new coronavirus, but that they didn't expect them to arrive until early to mid-April. As of this morning, Ouray County does not have a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, but officials have said they're operating as though the virus is in the community.


Update as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday:

Ouray County has established a hotline for coronavirus-related questions for local residents only. People can call 970-626-5484 and they will be routed to someone with the incident command center who can receive questions and provide answers about the current situation.


Original story:

Leaders in Ouray County are discussing more closures to discourage visitors and limit possible spread of coronavirus due to public interaction, in the absence of available testing to detect the illness.
During a 2 1/2 hour policy meeting Thursday, Incident Commander Tanner Kingery heard input from other local leaders, including representatives from local governments. The policy group recommended Kingery make several decisions – including issuing an order to close pools, limit lodging to discourage visitors from coming to Ouray County during the emergency and keep restaurants open to take-out as food supplies are uncertain. None of those orders have been issued at this time.
The virtual meeting, which attracted more than 60 participants, ended with large consensus on these recommendations to Kingery, who has the authority to make these decisions now that the county declared a disaster emergency. As health department director, Kingery has a wide ability to issue orders to protect the public in this time of emergency.
Regarding a possible decision to shut down tourist lodging, participants cited a similar order issued in eastern Utah this week, when Moab authorities announced they were closing short-term lodging to non-locals in response to concerns about virus spread by visitors.
Some said they were concerned about continuing to leave short-term lodging, defined as stays less than 30 days, open to visitors as other areas closed theirs down.
County Administrator Connie Hunt advised the group to consider those who work in Ouray County who are using hotels as more permanent lodging, including those working on the courthouse renovation.
“We have a model for that,” said Ridgway Town Councilor Beth Lakin, noting the order issued in Grand County, Utah, that provided an exception for local workers.
City of Ouray Mayor Greg Nelson urged the incident commanders to not dismiss the issue of closing down hotels temporarily, citing concerns about what the community will do if visitors come here, become ill and then need to be quarantined in place, and cared for until they recover.
“If you’re making the decision to keep hotels open just understand you need to have a plan that goes with it,” he said.
Kingery also mentioned concerns that visitors could deplete the food supply, as local grocer Duckett’s Market has had difficulties receiving the foods they’ve ordered from suppliers and warned they could be out of basics including bread soon.
But some restaurant owners said they’re not having problems receiving orders from their food suppliers at this time and leaders said they may play a key role in keeping the community fed, depending on what transpires.

"The restaurants are going to be an essential component of getting through this where they can stay open," said County Commissioner Ben Tisdel.
“It sounds like the restaurants are saying there’s no shortage of food coming to them so they can serve both people coming in and the current residents of Ouray is the message I’m getting,” said County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd, who is also the deputy incident commander.
Regarding massage therapists and other providers asked to maintain a safe space of 6 feet of distance from their clients, Kingery said, “We really don’t think that’s possible.”
Ridgway Town Councilor Tessa Cheek agreed, and said it makes sense to think of what can remain open safely at this time.
“Of course you can’t give massages right now when we don’t know how many people have COVID,” she said.
The state announced a new order this week limiting groups to 10 people, limiting gatherings. Kingery referenced the order when asked his opinion about keeping pools open, and said he’s concerned about limiting those gatherings and providing safe space to limit contagion.
During the discussion about restaurants, Kingery clarified that the state order limits restaurants to take-out service, and said he’s not concerned about delivery as long as foods are kept safe at appropriate temperatures and following food-safety guidelines as usual.
“We don’t want people sitting inside restaurants and being served,” he said. “The purpose is to avoid people gathering.”
The number of customers waiting for food inside a restaurant is limited to five. 
“It’s preferable that you wait in your car and go get your food when it’s ready,” Kingery said.

San Miguel County issued the first shelter-in-place order yesterday to residents, the first in the state.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Field Epidemiologist Kate Lujan urged local leaders to be proactive and noted she’s concerned about the large number of at-risk elderly people in Ouray County and community spread of the sickness. At this point, authorities have said there is a 15 percent chance of mortality for those who contract the illness and are at least 75 years old.
“You do need to act,” she said. “You do need to consider that you have a different level that you have to look at since you do not have positive tests at this point.”
She said any test results, even those from private labs, are at least a week away from coming back at this point. There are few tests available in Ouray County at this point, according to Kingery. Mountain Medical’s request for 20 tests resulted in only 10 being delivered, he said.
Some participants asked why Ouray County doesn’t have the same testing available that was announced in neighboring San Miguel County yesterday. Authorities there announced a countywide free blood test is being provided by a biomedical company and a private donor. The test is different than the swab test being used to detect the illness by state health authorities. Rather, it’s a blood test that also detects antibodies.

The tests are being provided by United Biomedical Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that develops immunotherapeutics and vaccines for chronic and infectious diseases, to detect and contain the coronavirus. The plan, announced in an emergency meeting yesterday, is being funded privately.

“Individuals who agree to be tested will receive a simple blood draw by a health care provider,” the county's news release said. “Tests will then be sent to a lab with results projected to be available within two days. The test ideally will be repeated in 14 days so public health officials can gauge if the rate of infection is increasing or decreasing.”

Boyd said the county has responded to the Colorado National Guard and said it’s interested in having a five-hour testing station set up here in Ouray County as soon as possible, but that could be weeks.
Kingery said he will consider everyone’s input on the matters and make a decision on matters.
“I am not making any decisions completely on my own - I want to have input,” Kingery said at the end of the meeting, thanking those who participated in the meeting.
The county is still working on establishing a hotline for information and has not activated an emergency operations command center at this time.