Pitkin County Public Health Department obtains 1,000 COVID-19 antibody tests for community use

RFTA announces riders must wear masks on buses starting Monday

The Pitkin County Public Health Department has obtained 1,000 COVID-19 antibody tests, which are expected to determine whether the infection is in a person’s body or has been.

“This test will allow us to get the epidemiological data that we’ve been looking for,” Gabe Muething, unified commander for the county’s incident management team and the director of the Aspen Ambulance District, said during a virtual community meeting Thursday afternoon.

Once the tests are validated for accuracy and criteria is established by the public health department’s medical team of whom should be tested, the tests will be given to community members for free.

That could happen within the next week, Muething said.

“It is really a test that we see the most accuracy out of it when somebody is seven to 10 or seven to 14 days post-start of their infections so there is a window of testing that we have here, that we’d like to enact,” he said. “We’ll get back to everybody on exactly how we’ll put people in those categories to be able to get the test and roll it out into the community.”

Muething stressed that these tests are not the same ones that are being used medically by Aspen Valley Hospital. Those tests are done with a swab and are reserved for the most severe cases and those in the vulnerable population.

The new test looks for antibodies in the blood, rather than the virus in the nose or throat.

“It would take a huge amount of testing to be able to define that, or to definitively say that we have immunity in our area, but with the amount of tests that we have and the type of tests we have, will at least allow us a glimpse into whether or not we have the start of immunity in our area,” Muething said, adding the test results are to be used as a data point for epidemiological information. 

Combine that with the county’s symptom tracker and AVH’s capacity data, and that will help guide the incident management team with modeling the spread of the virus in the community.

Muething said one of the goals with the new testing is to see if the results mirror local suppression efforts with public health orders of staying at home and social distancing.

“It’s not the silver bullet” that will lift public health orders that remain in effect for at least the rest of the month, Muething  said. “Thank you for bearing with us. … We realize it’s been a difficult process waiting for something like this to come. … We’re excited to be able to help the community out with it.”

Through Wednesday, Pitkin County has reported 39 positive cases and two Aspen men have died since the first county case was reported March 8, according to the daily update Thursday from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There have been 6,202 positive cases and 226 deaths in the state, the CDPHE report states.

It also was announced during Thursday’s community meeting that anyone who rides a Roaring Fork Transit Authority bus must wear a face covering, or mask. The mandate, which came Thursday morning from the RFTA board, begins on Monday.

Pitkin County Public Health Department is recommending that people wear cloth masks (not surgical ones that should be saved for medical personnel) when they are outside of their homes and in places where social distancing six feet apart from one another could be difficult.

“What we’ve learned as we continue to learn about this virus spreading throughout the country is that people can be pre- symptomatic or asymptomatic, and so the purpose of wearing a cloth mask is to cover your nose and mouth, and it’s to protect others,” said Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann, who also is on the incident management team.

The health department is expected to vote on the mask recommendation next week during its board meeting.

Officials point to a video on the county’s website and the Centers for Disease Control on how to wear a mask and what to do with it when done wearing it.

Koenemann said it’s important not to touch the front of the mask, don’t pull it down to speak or eat, and it should fit tight around the face.

“Think about your mask like underwear, that it should be washed after every use,” she said.

More Like This, Tap A Topic