Blaine County will participate in a clinical study to test a random sample of residents for the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies, the city of Ketchum announced Wednesday in a press release.
Antibody tests from a random sample of 400 residents will be sent to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and analyzed by researchers at the New York-based Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Local leaders hope the study will give a picture of how widespread the virus is within the community, and will eventually provide answers as to when it can "resume normal activity."
The partnership was initiated, in part, by Bill McLaughlin, the Ketchum fire chief. He reached out to his sister, an epidemiologist in New York state, who connected the county with the researchers in Albany.
Likely within the next week, the county will set up drive-through sites to draw blood from the selected residents. The samples will be sent to Seattle and then to Albany, and will help answer a number of scientific questions, including assessing the duration of the outbreak, developing vaccines for the virus, and determining whether there are indicators for predicting a mild or severe reaction to COVID-19.
It’ll also help the Wood River Valley understand what to expect in the months ahead.
“This is a big piece of the whole question of when does this all end, is knowing how extensive the virus is within the community,” McLaughlin said.
Blaine County residents can sign up for a chance to participate in the study at this website.
In another testing initiative, Sterling Urgent Care, which operates clinics in Hailey, Burley, Idaho Falls and locations in Utah and Wyoming, rolled out an antibody test for coronavirus last week. According to the South Central Public Health District, this test has not been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
It secured tests for 1,000 people that were distributed among its locations and at least 4,000 more tests are on the way.
The antibody test uses blood samples as opposed to the standard nasal swab. The two-part test costs $100 up-front, and should produce results within 15 minutes. It looks at antibodies that develop a few days after the onset of the infection and antibodies that develop later on. This means it can tell if someone is currently sick and if the person has developed the antibodies that show they're recovering.
Scientists say antibody testing could eventually show how widespread coronavirus is within a population. For individuals, Sterling Urgent Care CEO Scott Brown said, “This will at least give them a benchmark of where they’re at and some peace of mind.”
Additionally, a cohort of Idaho businesses introduced an initiative this week to drastically increase the number of Idahoans tested for coronavirus.
Led by Tommy Ahlquist, the CEO of BVA Development and a former emergency room physician, "CrushTheCurveIdaho.com," aims to test as many essential workers in the state as possible to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. An assessment on the website tells people if they qualify for a test, and a representative follows up to direct people to a nearby testing center.
Crush The Curve Idaho says it will administer 1,000 coronavirus tests daily, beginning on Wednesday in the Treasure Valley. It says it’s actively sourcing antibody tests.
Correction: There is only one antibody test authorized by the Food and Drug Administration; the South Central Public Health District says the clinic’s test is not that one.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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