Unprecedented countywide coronavirus antibody testing in Colorado back on after mix-up

San Miguel County was going to test every single resident for antibodies.

April 9, 2020, 9:34 PM

The effort to continue testing every resident of San Miguel County, Colorado, for coronavirus antibodies appears to be back on after officials apologized for "unintentionally misleading" statements that suggested the private lab 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 is 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.

Earlier this week the county said the second round of tests had been "delayed indefinitely" because United Biomedical had been compromised by staffing shortages and had processed only about 1,600 of 6,000 tests.

United Biomedical is now working with San Miguel County, which includes the famous Rocky Mountain ski destination Telluride, to test all 8,000 residents for COVID-19 antibodies.
Courtesy United Biomedical

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Thursday, however, the county apologized for that characterization and said testing would resume.

“UBI’s lab is experiencing the same staffing and supply challenges due to COVID-19 that the entire world faces, but they are committed to producing the results as quickly as possible. The indication that the lab was compromised was unintentionally misleading and the County apologizes for any confusion it created,” county officials said in a press release. “San Miguel County remains confident in the quality of test results from UBI. As UBI continues to work diligently to supply results, the County is standing by to resume testing when appropriate.”

The county's press release included a statement from Hu, United Biomedical’s CEO, saying they looked forward to continuing testing.

“Like all labs, 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. We look forward to the second round of testing with our partners in San Miguel County,” Hu said in the release.

A United Biomedical representative told ABC News their lab is up and running and was never compromised, but is adjusting to a new normal brought on by the burdens of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused a temporary decrease in staff as employees adjusted to school closures and working from home.

The company said it has now hired additional staff for the lab, which it said can process 100 samples every two to three hours.

County officials did not specify when the second round of antibody testing would begin.

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