Thursday, August 13, 2020
Doctor Discounts COVID Rumors as Researchers Explain Antibody Test
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Members of the Wood River Women’s Foundation’s board and its founders masked up while delivering a Zoom talk to the organization’s members on Tuesday.
   
Saturday, July 11, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Those hordes of out-of-towners that are testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing in Sun Valley?

Rubbish!

Dr. Terry O’Connor, an emergency physician at St. Luke’s Wood River, says that he, too, has heard the rumors that Eye on Sun Valley wrote about last week. As hordes of vacationers pour into the valley, rumors have been rampant that 40, 45, even 50 vacationers have tested positive for the C-crud while here.

 
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Eye on Sun Valley asked Paul Ries to chart a graph showing Blaine County's trajectory in coronavirus cases since Idaho entered its fourth phase of reopening in mid-June. Stage Four allowed all businesses to reopen, including stadiums and nightclubs. And gatherings of more than 50 were permitted.
 

It’s difficult for the general public to check the veracity of such rumors because positive tests are referred to the state of a person’s primary residence. And neither the state of Idaho nor South Central Public Health District have been keeping a separate category for those tests as do other places like Alaska.

But O’Connor said he looked at the tests done by St. Luke’s, Sterling Urgent Care and private physicians in the Wood River Valley from June 20 through this week. And there were five out-of-county positives.

The vast majority of people are tested through St. Luke’s, he said during a Virtual Town Hall hosted by Blaine County Thursday night. And, even during the beginning of the coronovirus pandemic in Blaine County, there were only 26 out-of-county patients who tested positive.

”We’re a world away from those rumors,” he said. “But, one of the best measures in light of this uncertainty remains keeping your distance from others, washing your hands and wearing masks.

 
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Idaho had its worst day on Friday with 500 new cases of COVID-19 reported, bringing the state's total to 9,928. The statewide curve just keeps getting steeper, said Paul Ries. Blaine County had two new cases for 548, while Twin Falls County reported 24 new cases for 812.
 

There is value in learning how many second homeowners and long-term vacationers test positive while here, noted Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg.

And Brianna Bodily, the public information officer for the South Central Public Health District, told Eye on Sun Valley last week that she is working with local providers to put together a system that would allow the health district to report the total number of positive cases within the region instead of just residents.

The protocol used was agreed upon by all 50 states to make sure no cases are lost or double counted. But, she noted, it does not provide all the information that’s needed for counties with high tourism, such as Blaine County.

“I hope to have a solid solution to this problem soon, but I have to wait for our community partners to agree,” she said. “If they do not, please know that I will keep working until I find a way to help report this data.”

Melody Bowyer, the director of South Central Public Health, said that she also is working with Dr. O’Connor and Dr. Tom Archie to figure out how to report the number of non-residents who test positive in Blaine County.

CORONAVIRUS RUN AMOK

The Virtual Town Hall was held just ahead of Idaho’s single worst day ever for new coronavirus cases. The state recorded 500 new cases on Friday, pushing its number to 9,928 since mid-March.

Deaths remained at 101.

Blaine County recorded two more cases, bringing its total to 548 since the first case in mid-March.

THE ANTIBODY TEST

Dr. Emily McLaughlin, who helped lead an antibody test to determine the prevalence of coronavirus in Blaine County, said that her Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are using the information they obtained from the study to help scientists understand the coronavirus and antibodies.

McLaughlin, the sister of Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin, said she was amazed that more than 2,000 community members volunteered for the study in a 24-hour period. Researchers drew blood from 917, selected to represent a distribution of ages, genders and the populations of Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley.

Of those 208 tested positive.  Researchers believe their finding that 23 percent of the population in the community has antibodies is accurate, based on adjustments they made.

Thirty-five percent of those living Ketchum tested positive for antibodies; 17 percent, in Hailey, and 19 percent in Sun Valley.

Thirty-two percent of those between 19 years of age and 28 tested positive for antibodies. Twenty-four percent of men tested positive and 21 percent of women.

There was a lower prevalence of antibodies among essential workers, such as grocery clerks, than the rest of the population. That was the case in New York, as well, she noted.

Fewer than 5 percent of those who believed they did not get the coronavirus tested positive.

The University of Washington is doing more work with the results, she said. She hopes to post information on a website in a week—after researchers are finished documenting their methods.

MASKING UP

The City of Sun Valley became the third city in the Wood River Valley to mandate masks on Thursday. Hailey and Ketchum also mandate masks in public, as do the Idaho cities of Boise, McCall, Driggs and Moscow.

Blaine County commissioners passed a resolution encouraging them.

Mandating masks “has been fairly contentious, to say the least,” noted Greenberg. But, he added, the mask mandates are not an attack on personal freedom; rather, they’re an attempt to keep people from being infected by the coronavirus.

“Wearing masks when you go into public will save lives. It’s been proven to be effective,” he said, adding that wearing masks will help businesses open and stay open.

TESTING

The criteria for testing has not changed in the last month, nor has the availability of tests, said Dr. Terry O’Connor.  And the turnaround in Blaine County is still quick.

It’s impossible to get testing if you have no symptoms, he added, unless you are being considered for elective surgeries, such as repairing a torn ACL.

St. Luke’s Wood River does not charge for tests of those whose insurance doesn’t cover the tests.

If you want to get tested outside of the hospital, ask if the test you’re about to get has been accepted by public health organizations. While the vast majority of tests are approved, there are still some antibody tests that are not valid, he said.

The health district only uses results from molecular or PCR tests that verify whether someone is COVID positive.

IMMUNITY

Whether or not you have immunity if you’ve had coronavirus and whether or not you can contract it again and spread it is the million-dollar question, noted Dr. Maggie Doll, professor in the department of population health sciences at Albany College.

There is data that positive antibodies can neutralize the virus should it try to infect someone again. But we don’t know to what extent, she said.

Dr. Colleen McLaughlin noted that antibodies are not the only things in the body that confer immunity. There are other things that may help keep an infection mild, she said.

COMPARING COVID WITH THE FLU

Dr. Terry O’Connor noted that people still have the misconception that COVID is no worse than the flu.

During the 2016-17 flu season, a hundred Idahoans died of the flu.

“We’ve reached that already with the coronavirus,” he said, noting the deaths of the past four months. “And we’re just in the beginning of a new resurgence in the state.”

KEEPING THE FIRE AT BAY

Dr. Terry O’Connor noted that, while the virus is not running amok in Blaine County, the rest of the state poses a threat.

“We have a fire on our hands, and we want to keep it from flowing back into our community,” he said. “We are still very, very reliant on your cooperation.”

Don’t discredit the value of your stories and anecdotes concerning yourself or those who know who have had the disease, he added. “People who don’t believe this is an issue, don’t listen to statistics.”

 

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