Unprecedented coronavirus antibody testing hits roadblock in Colorado

(TELLURIDE, Colorado) — The effort to test every resident of San Miguel County, Colorado, for coronavirus antibodies — including the mountain community of Telluride — hit a snag after health officials said the private company conducting the tests couldn’t handle the workload.

Last month, biotech company United Biomedical Inc. offered to pay to test every resident of San Miguel County for COVID-19 antibodies. Company founders Mei Mei Hu and her husband, Lou Reese, are part-time residents of Telluride. About 6,000 people were tested during the first round, according to the county.

Officials said the goal with widespread testing was to learn whether a person’s blood showed signs of COVID-19 exposure. That information might help officials decide if widespread quarantines and stay-at-home orders should stay in place, or could be strategically lifted.

A second round of tests, however, has now been “delayed indefinitely” because the county says the coronavirus crisis has reduced staffing at United Biomedical by 40%. Only 1,600 of the nearly 6,000 tests taken during the first round of testing have been processed so far, county officials said.

“We will continue to evaluate whether or not it makes sense to pursue the second round of testing given the unexpected obstacles UBI’s lab is facing,” San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin said in a statement.

United Biomedical disputed the county’s assessment, however, and said it is working to complete the remaining tests quickly.

“We are in continued communication with San Miguel County Commissioners regarding testing in San Miguel County and our partnership remains intact. Our lab was not compromised, and we’re constantly working around the clock to process results from our friends and neighbors in San Miguel County,” the company said in a statement to ABC News.

“Like all labs,” the statement continued, “ours has experienced increased demand in the midst of an unprecedented global public health crisis. We have delivered almost 2,000 initial results from San Miguel County, and anticipate continuing to deliver expanded results as samples are continuing to arrive at our lab.”

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