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To test, or not to test, that is the question this Memorial Day weekend in Vail

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May 24, 2020, 9:38 am

Last week we got our antibody test results back from Colorado Mountain Medical, and – HIPAA be damned – I can reveal that no one in the Williams family is Eagle County’s Patient Zero for the COVID-19 outbreak that shut down our ski areas and our economy in mid-March.

You’re welcome.

Seriously, though, we had some degree of concern that perhaps we had contracted the novel coronavirus during our late-December ski trip to Japan. My wife had some flu-like symptoms here in early January after we got back, and I had a long, lingering cold with a dry cough throughout February and into March.

Neither of us felt like we had the chest-crushing lung infection most commonly associated with COVID-19, but symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient … and asymptomatic people can be carriers, so we were curious. And we also wondered if we might have some level of immunity and the ability to give blood that might have some therapeutic value.

One thing we knew for sure, however, is that no matter what our results were, we would not relax the Stay At Home, Safer At Home and social distancing practices we’ve been observing since mid-March. Having antibodies from the virus in your blood does not mean you’re invincible, and doctors aren’t even sure if perhaps you can catch COVID-19 twice.

We’ve always been more cognizant of practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding crowds and sick people since my wife was hospitalized with a severe lung infection in 2013. We will be even more acutely aware of those protocols going forward, no matter what.

As the Eagle River Valley moves from the green to blue phase of reopening, it seems like everyone is taking stock – looking back at the level of risk we were previously willing to accept in our travels and interactions with other humans and forward toward what that level of risk-taking will look like in the future.

In a Feb. 24 Vail Daily story on our Japan trip, I wrote this: “I felt bad for everyone there this season — not only the Aussies whose homeland was on fire at the time but now the [Japanese] tourism industry in general with the coronavirus. Luckily, we were there before anyone had heard that word, although everyone wears masks, even in the ski resorts.”

Just four days later, when I reposted that story on RealVail.com, the north island of Hokkaido, where we had skied the Epic Pass resort of Rusutsu, had declared a state of emergency and shut down to outside tourism. Turns out I needed to be far more worried about the United States COVID-19 response and the impacts to our own ski industry right here in Colorado.

Just two weeks later Vail was shut down and our local hospital was in danger of being overwhelmed. Fast forward a little over two months from that mid-March economic cliff drop and our state remarkably just now announced it has the supplies and capacity to test anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms.

Not just everyone, period, which is what we really need in order to return to our former stature as a fully functional global destination ski-resort community, but just the people who have symptoms. That would have been nice in early March, but at that point in history our federal government was denying there was a problem, calling the pandemic a political hoax.

Now the U.S. has surpassed 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and is nearing 100,000 deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There are about 16,000 cases and 800 deaths from the disease in Japan and 7,000 cases and 100 deaths in Australia. Where would you rather visit right now?

Widespread, readily available, and rapid diagnostic testing — and a national plan to get there, which is still sorely lacking — is the only real way we’re going to get back to the kind of global travel that put Vail and Colorado’s ski industry on the international map over the last six decades.

Meanwhile, back home in the Eagle River Valley, we’ve seen 579 cases and 8 deaths in a population of about 45,000, and we accomplished that by shutting down our entire tourism-based economy and kicking everyone out of the valley. How long is that sustainable?

As of Sunday morning, Colorado has seen 23,964 cases and 1,327 deaths among cases, with 1,088 deaths directly due to COVID-19. The state is slowly approaching the ability to process around 10,000 tests a day.

But is that enough for a state that relies so heavily on inviting the world to come enjoy our mountainous beauty? And there are lingering questions about the accuracy of the tests we do have.

If you’re thinking about getting the antibody or the diagnostic test, which is still reserved for the symptomatic, consider this from Vail Health’s Chris Lindley (click here for YouTube video):

How accurate are Vail Health’s COVID-19 tests?

We are hearing a lot of questions locally and in the media related to the validity of COVID-19 tests. We want to make sure you all know that both of our primary COVID-19 tests are 95%+ accurate. Please help spread this information throughout our community:

Both our COVID-19 genetic test (if you have the virus now) and antibody test (if you had the virus weeks ago) are sent to a trusted lab (Quest) and have been independently validated by three organizations to be 95%+ accurate when a positive result is detected.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should get the genetic test to determine if they currently have COVID-19. Call your provider to schedule the test.

Antibody testing is not necessary because it can create a false sense of security – there is no verified scientific evidence of immunity. But, many people are curious to know if they had the virus previously, so it is available through Colorado Mountain Medical (CMM) in Avon.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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