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PitCo Orders New COVID-19 Tests, Aspen Valley Hospital Has Admitted 10 Patients So Far

Mar 26, 2020

Dave Ressler, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO, speaks during Thursday's Pitkin County online community meeting.
Credit Screenshot from GrassRoots TV

Aspen Valley Hospital has admitted 10 patients with symptoms of COVID-19 since the outbreak began. Two are currently at the hospital; one is in critical condition. In Pitkin County’s online community meeting Thursday, Dave Ressler, the hospital’s CEO, said patient volumes are light but they are seeing sicker patients than before.

Of the 10 patients, two tested positive, four tested negative, and four tests are still outstanding.

One patient in critical condition was transferred to a hospital at lower altitude. Aspen Valley will continue to transfer the most severe cases to hospitals in Grand Junction and Denver, should those hospitals have enough space.

Ressler said Aspen Valley has five ventilators, and that they are also being used in transit when a patient is transferred to a facility at lower altitude.

The county also announced its first death from the virus. A 94-year-old man with serious underlying medical issues died Tuesday at his home in Aspen.

The county has ordered 1,000 new tests, which county officials said will be more streamlined and efficient than the nasal swabs they used previously. The new tests, developed by a biotech startup in Boulder, take a drop of blood from a finger prick. The tests require fewer personnel and less personal protective equipment than nasal swabs. Local hospitals have said both are resources that are essential to caring for patients, but could be threatened by a surge in hospitalizations.

Those blood tests will have a quicker turnaround time, with results in as little as 45 minutes. Brad Holmes, a hospitalist at Aspen Valley Hospital, said the new tests look for antibodies in blood samples, which can take anywhere from three to five days to develop in patients with the virus.

Bill Linn, a public information officer on the county’s Incident Management Team, said Pitkin County has not yet paid for the tests and has not yet been told when they will be delivered. 

“The day we got signed up was the first day they were approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] for testing, so we're pretty high up on their priority list,” Linn said. “I'd like to think so based on the timing of us putting in that request to make an order.”

County officials also encouraged residents to fill out a new online “symptom tracker.” The survey asks for a description of symptoms, demographic information, location of residence and employment information. 

While the survey is not a scientific data collection, county officials hope it will allow them to spot patterns and identify infected communities or neighborhoods, then contact people in those populations to help stem outbreak.

“Because of the seriousness of the situation and the specific questions we're asking and just the social atmosphere around the community response to COVID-19,” Linn said, “we think people are going to take it seriously and do the right thing.”