This opinion piece first appeared in the Summit Daily on May 5, 2020.
On April 17, Vail Health received a call from the Summit County Public Health Department to see if we could support them by providing COVID-19 diagnostic tests in their community as they didn’t have enough to accurately portray how many members of the community were infected.
We worked in close partnership with public health officials over the weekend to set up procedures and processes, and on April 21, we opened the first Vail Health COVID-19 testing facility in Silverthorne at our Howard Head Sports Medicine clinic. We tested more than 45 people on the first day, and realizing the growing need for additional testing, we improved the process and increased staff, allowing us to double the number of appointments to 96. We also added in a third day of testing. Due to the increase in local testing capacity, we will not be coming anymore on scheduled days but will still consult on targeted mobile testing going forward.
Of the 275 patients we’ve tested in Summit to date, we now have results from the first 184 tests performed, of which 24 were positive, for a positive test rate of 13%. These are just our test results from Vail Health. There are additional testing efforts across the county.
We will continue to work with Summit County Public Health to provide as much testing as they want, and we are assisting in addressing the needs of the Spanish speaking community through a mobile testing platform. Tests are at no charge to this population as public health officials have established payment on their behalf.
There are two types of tests: a diagnostic, genetic test that identifies people currently sick with COVID-19; and a serology, antibody test that identifies a previous immune response to COVID-19, meaning you have had COVID-19 in the past. Having antibodies does not guarantee immunity, i.e., protection against getting COVID-19 again. Unfortunately, we do not know the level of protection the antibodies provide or for how long they might provide protection.
Last week, Quest Diagnostics said they now have an antibody test taken via a blood sample. We collect the blood sample, and they run the test and check for the antibody related to COVID-19. Quest is one of the largest labs in the country and has done an amazing job for us. When they said last week that they now have an antibody test available, we said we would start it. On April 23, we started antibody testing at Colorado Mountain Medical, the provider arm of Vail Health. We have tested over 2,200 patients for the antibody over the past week.
A common question frequently asked is how we’ve accomplished so much testing in Eagle County and how we’re able to expand to a neighboring mountain community?
It was really easy. A terrific partnership exists between Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical. We evaluated all the testing options that were available, from the state laboratory to private commercial laboratories, and found that Quest, a national commercial laboratory, was the quickest at providing results. So we began sending all samples to Quest. We didn’t get any type of special agents to collect samples; we just started using nasal swabs, similar to how flu and strep tests are done. Quest performed all the analysis and testing at their facility.
Any hospital or provider of health care could have worked with any of the commercial companies as we did and had the same testing capacity as we did. We didn’t have special tests; we were sending them on very common sample collection platforms. We did plan ahead, and we continue to stay six weeks ahead of the sample collection material that we need.
We chose to test aggressively in Eagle County and will continue to do so to help monitor the community spread as the county begins to loosen public health orders. Within Summit County, we would like to offer the same services.
At Vail Health, we are not just neighbors but aim to truly be part of the health and wellness of our community. We share the same mountain environment and have many patients and employees who live in Summit County and commute over the pass to Eagle County or live in Summit County and work at a Vail Health location in Frisco, Breckenridge or Silverthorne. As Vail Health completes the new medical facility in Dillon, even more health care jobs will be added to the fabric of our mountain valleys.
We look forward to serving your needs.