Alexis Barker, News Letter-Journal
Weston County has so far escaped COVID-19 since the disease first hit Wyoming in March. But that is no reason to let down your guard and abandon precaution, according to county health providers.
Not a single case of the new coronavirus has been reported in the county (Platte County shares the same good news). Widespread sentiment and/or rumor throughout the community has been that perhaps it is due to an unknown outbreak of disease in the community in the months before the first actual confirmed case.
According to public health officer Mike Jording, M.D., these sentiments have proved to be unfounded after Hometown Medical Clinic and provider Ashley Tupper began offering antibody testing.
“This is a blood test that determines whether there has been past exposure to the virus,” Jording said. “There is sentiment around the community that maybe it was here before and we weren’t attune to what was going on.
“There has been testing done, and those have been negative. Although we had the hunch that there was something around that we didn’t know about, the tests have not proved that to be the case as far as COVID-19 is concerned.”
Testing for the antibodies will continue, Jording said, but, to date, the community has not seen any recent or past exposure to the coronavirus associated with COVID-19, not even on an acute level.
According to Tupper, with the help of LabCorp, Hometown Medical Clinic was able to begin providing the antibody testing on April 27. She said the blood test looks for immunoglobulin G antibodies that are built up when the body is exposed to an antigen.
“The interesting thing about this virus is another antibody testing has had little support because it is not showing a high rate of conversion for the other antibody,” Tupper said, resulting in a high rate of false negatives.
The conversion rate into immunoglobulin antibodies with this coronavirus is happening at a faster rate than with other illnesses, including mononucleosis, which takes six to eight weeks for the conversion to be evident in the blood.
“With COVID-19, we are seeing conversion in eight to 10 days since exposure. This test is to be taken 10to 14 days post-symptom onset. That is the main criteria,” Tupper said. “You have to have had symptoms in the past, believe you have been exposed or be a health care worker.”
If patients meet the criteria to be tested, Tupper said, they must visit the clinic, where their blood will be drawn and sent to LabCorp.
“We have been getting our results back in two days,” Tupper said.
She is slightly shocked and honestly disappointed in the lack of positive results in the community, she said.
“I am a little bit surprised. I was hopeful. I am disappointed we don’t have any positives. It was a nice thought that it had already made its way through the community, but this is a great opportunity to remember that we have to be cautious,” Tupper said. “We still have to be careful.”
Jording echoed Tupper’s advice, reminding the community to remain vigilant in protecting others and themselves from the disease. He said that he suspects the virus has made its way into the community and has not yet been detected.
Anyone who suspects they may have COVID-19, Jording said, should contact their provider or the triage line through Monument Health to discuss the need for testing.
“The ability to get the testing done hinges upon a visit with a provider,” Jording said.
Weston County public health nurse Linda Bickford said that the community must be cautious because of the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in the state and communities surrounding the county.
“It is a false sense of security to believe COVID-19 cannot reach Weston County. Please continue to follow the public health precautions in place to keep Weston County safe. We need to remember that the reason we do not have an outbreak in our community is because we are following the safety precautions and those efforts are working,” Bickford said.
“Our behavior is key to reducing and preventing the risk of COVID-19 in our communities. We thank you for everything you are doing to protect yourself and others.”