Testing still scarce


Man who worked in Ouray County positive for COVID-19

  • Montrose County conducts COVID-19 testing on Monday with assistance from the Colorado National Guard. As of Wednesday, 146 tests had been given in Montrose County, with four positive cases identified. Photo courtesy Montrose County
    Montrose County conducts COVID-19 testing on Monday with assistance from the Colorado National Guard. As of Wednesday, 146 tests had been given in Montrose County, with four positive cases identified. Photo courtesy Montrose County

The moment his coworker high-fived him, he felt a nagging suspicion he had it.

It came in a moment when someone else at work was super pumped about still being able to earn money as restaurants and other service industries complied with the governor’s order to close their doors temporarily, for fear of the virus spreading. Without tests widely available for coronavirus, public health officials advised distancing people from each other, avoiding opportunities for crowded spaces and up-close, personal services where safety from contracting the undetected virus wasn’t guaranteed. Many folks were out of jobs suddenly, as a result of an emergency order from the state, after ski resorts closed and restaurants darkened.

But this job, an outside job, wasn’t affected, and they could keep going to work and earning a living in the region, in areas including parts of Ouray County.

"He was all, like, woo hoo! And gave me a big high five, and it was at that moment that I felt uncertain,” the man said. “My intuition was very clear that I had it right in that moment."

The man, whom the Plaindealer has decided not to name for privacy reasons, hadn’t been feeling so well. It was more a feeling of blah than anything a low-energy, not-quite-right feeling “off” or under the weather.

He had a slight stuffiness in his head but hadn’t noticed anything else, really.

But still, he left work early that day and visited his doctor at Cedar Point Health. A medical professional met him outside the clinic, took his temperature and found he had a low-grade fever - 99.4 degrees. They decided to test him for flu and other respiratory illnesses, in addition to COVID-19.

After all, he had been to a concert in Crested Butte five days before he started feeling the symptoms, and Gunnison County was one of the first in Colorado to have a confirmed cluster of coronavirus cases.

It took six days to get results, and the test came back positive. He’s stayed home, and other than taking multivitamins and Vitamin C supplements and staying hydrated, he hasn’t done anything special.

According to the Montrose County Health Department, the 34-year-old man is the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county. Since then, four total people had been confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon.

No cases have been confirmed in Ouray County yet, but officials say they believe it’s largely because of a lack of available tests. Mountain Medical only received io tests last week, according to reports from Dr Joel Gates to county incident command leaders.

Some Ouray County residents have gone to great lengths to get tested for COVID-19. Log Hill resident Lori Patton drove her 7-year-old son Hunter to Delta to get tested after his pediatrician in Montrose refused to test the child on March 16.

Hunter, who has an autoimmune disorder, had all the symptoms — a 102.8 degree fever, a persistent cough, shallow breathing.

So Patton was surprised to hear his doctor say he didn’t recommend testing and no, he wouldn’t write a prescription for one, either. His reasoning? A positive result would only cause panic and result in mandatory reporting requirements, and they didn’t have any tests anyway. His recommendation was to go home, take antibiotics and use a nebulizer.

“He said, ‘There are currently zero cases in Montrose County and my plan is to keep it that way,’ " she said.

While Patton said she has empathy for the healthcare workers who don’t have access to tests and have few resources, she found the response infuriating. So she tried another route and called the Ouray County Health Department, where she was advised she could take Hunter to urgent care in Delta.

More than a week later, they received test results. It was negative.

But that’s not the point, she said. Not knowing the uncertainty and the worry took a toll. She’s glad she advocated for her child and got the test, and her advice for other parents is, "No matter what you’re being told, trust your instincts."

The lack of available testing continues to be a top concern in the county, as neighboring counties receive positive test results. Commissioners were scheduled to hold an emergency meeting at 8:3o a.m. today (Thursday) to discuss blood testing for COVID-19 antibodies.

The county is considering a proposal to test residents — similar to the one undertaken in neighboring San Miguel County — but one that doesn’t come for free. The San Miguel testing used a blood test on willing residents to test for antibodies, provided for free from a biomedical company, UHL

Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery said the tests are estimated to cost more than $200,000.

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 lmow 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 undear where the money would come from at this time.

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.”