COVID-19 testing

Bud Frederick gets his nose swabbed during a COVID-19 testing event Thursday, May 28, 2020, at the Teton County Fairgrounds. The 10-hour marathon event provided testing for anyone, symptomatic or not, who lives or works in Teton County.

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Teton County has no active COVID-19 cases.

That remarkable milestone was reached Friday. After a peak of 46 in mid-April, the active case count has declined, hovering in single digits throughout May.

One thing that could bump that number up is the community testing event the Teton County Health Department held May 28, when 1,355 people received PCR nasal swab tests. Though the department initially told people results would take three to five days, the massive amount of tests slowed the process.

“We didn’t truly understand the amount of time it would take to process, send in and tabulate the results,” public health coordinator Rachael Wheeler said.

Wheeler attributes that to the fact the Health Department expected to administer between 300 and 400 tests. Instead three to four times that many people showed up. The 470 tests sent to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory have been processed, but a few sent to LabCorp, a private company, remain outstanding.

Some vials leaked, making the tests unusable, and the sheer number of insurance claims has taken days to wade through. For patients whose tests leaked, the department gave them the opportunity to retake the tests.

Those few tests aside, the department has the results for roughly 95% or more of the tests. In evidence that the community’s social distancing efforts worked, none have been positive, but Wheeler wasn’t ready Tuesday to declare success.

“We really want to hit home that people had to self-report to this event, so that may not be a true reflection of disease in our community,” she said.

Results from the mass testing event are just one data set that could give a more complete picture of COVID-19’s spread in Teton County. PCR tests look for active viral particles, but Test Teton Now’s antibody testing could give a historical perspective on how many people have had the virus.

The nonprofit would like to test 8,000 people in Teton County, and it is approaching the release of its first trove of data.

“We think that 2,000, 4,000, and 8,000, those are the perfect benchmarks to start releasing data,” spokeswoman Jenn Ford said.

Test Teton Now will likely hit 2,000 tests by the end of the week, Ford said, so it could soon release data on the positive rate and a few demographic elements like gender. So far, the positive rate is “what we would expect for a low-prevalence community like Jackson,” Ford said.

Prevalence varies widely across the country. The Aspen Times reported one lab in Colorado had seen a 7.6% positive rate in its nearly 500 antibody tests, while an early Stanford University antibody study in Santa Clara County, California, found a 1.5% raw prevalence of antibodies.

Results from the Health Department and Test Teton Now can’t be completely extrapolated to the community because they aren’t randomized studies. Because people elected to join, the results may not be representative of the population.

However, preliminary findings from one randomized study may give a glimpse into effectiveness of mitigation measures. St. John’s Health has been randomly testing frontline employees, and of the 225 molecular PCR tests administered, just one has been positive.

The hospital has also been testing frontline workers and first responders for antibodies, with similar results, CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said. Just one person so far in more than 100 tests has been positive.

Given that the people the hospital is testing have a higher potential of contracting the virus, Beaupre said, the low prevalence shows the effectiveness of hand washing and mask wearing, which health care workers do “religiously.” He hopes the hospital’s techniques can be a template for other businesses to keep the number of active cases low.

“They could probably have the same results,” Beaupre said. “It’s simple, but you can protect your workforce by getting them doing those things.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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