The Fascinating Antibody Experiment Happening in One Colorado County
A blood test could tell how many people have been infected with the new coronavirus
Colorado’s San Miguel County is best known for its ski resorts and arts festivals, but lately it’s gained national attention for an effort to provide all of its 8,000 residents with a coronavirus blood test.
The test is unlike the one being offered across the United States. Instead of diagnosing people who are currently sick with Covid-19, it’s meant to uncover those who have been infected with the new coronavirus without knowing it. This is important because these people may now be immune to the virus — at least for some period of time. The test could be the key to reopening workplaces and allowing people to return to their normal lives.
“Anyone who’s been infected gets the relief of knowing that they’re probably immune and they can go on with their regular lives. That’s a huge load off your chest,” says Stephen Elledge, PhD, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School whose lab is working on such a test.
San Miguel County is the first in the country to provide this kind of widespread testing. Its tests are being donated by Mei Mei Hu and Lou Reese, a married couple who live part of the year in the county seat of Telluride and are executives at United Biomedical, a biotech company that developed the test. The county’s public health department will initially test health care workers and emergency first responders and their families, and after that, anyone in the county who wants a test will be able to get one free of charge.
In the rest of the United States, these tests are not widely available yet, but they could be soon. Companies and academic labs are rushing to develop and distribute them in hopes of reopening society soon. Known as antibody or serology tests, they could be used to identify who’s had the virus and who hasn’t.
“We don’t have a good handle on how many individuals are actually infected with this virus,” says Robin Patel, MD, president of the American Society of Microbiology.
The more than 186,000 coronavirus cases logged in the United States as of April 1 only represent those confirmed by laboratory tests…