'You're pre-COVID': More antibody testing now available in the Springs

Also, CC cancels study away for the fall and extends work-from-home

Good morning, and happy Tuesday. In case you haven’t taken our survey already, we are collecting Colorado College student opinions for a future newsletter about CC’s pandemic response and preferences for next semester. You can take the survey here.

First, congratulations to the graduating CC class of 2020. The CC community celebrated with a letter from outgoing president Jill Tiefenthaler, videos from CC faculty and departments, a virtual performance of the CC Alma Mater, and more. Reminder: CC plans to hold an in-person commencement celebration for the class of 2020 — that’s this year’s — on Sunday, May 30 of next year. 

Today, we walk you through the new antibody testing process in Colorado Springs and recap CC’s decisions to cancel fall study for away blocks while extending work-from-home procedures until Aug. 1.

ICYMI: Yesterday, we spoke with Phoebe Lostroh, a microbiologist, about her COVID-19 forecast for El Paso County, and took you behind the models.

More antibody testing is now available in the Springs. Here’s how it looks

Last week, UCHealth announced it is offering COVID-19 antibody testing for anyone curious about whether they might have caught the novel coronavirus.

“Many people have been interested in getting antibody tested because they want to know if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or they want to know if they are possibly immune to COVID-19,” said Dr. Richard Zane, UCHealth’s Chief Innovation Officer, in a statement. “Unfortunately, for now, the only thing we can tell you is that if you have antibodies, you have been exposed to COVID-19. We cannot tell you yet whether you are immune to it.”

A member of our reporting team was one of those interested people, and upon hearing about the availability of testing on Friday he quickly made an appointment through the UCHealth online portal and walked a few blocks to a testing site at UCHealth Memorial Hospital on East Boulder Street about two miles from campus. (You can also drive through.) UCHealth is a provider covered under Cigna, a health insurance company for eligible CC employees.

In a privacy bay under a tent in the parking lot, a health provider with sleeve-length tattoos drew a vial of blood from our correspondent’s forearm and sent him on his way in a matter of minutes. The results came back, online, within hours: “Non-Reactive,” which means negative.

Like many, we imagine, our team member had been wondering if he had caught the virus, remained asymptomatic, and never even knew it. Had he spread the ‘rona around the grocery store, liquor store, or other essential businesses any time within the past 12 weeks of self-imposed quasi-quarantine?

The test result indicates the answer is no, but then again it’s just one test. “A non-reactive result doesn’t rule out SARS-CoV-2 infection,” read an amendment to the results. So there’s that. But UCHealth touts its tests as one of the better ones out there. 

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that many antibody tests are not accurate and have not been approved by the FDA,” reads an item on the UCHealth website. “The antibody tests that UCHealth now provides have been evaluated by the FDA and far exceed the agency’s requirements for accuracy and specificity. These are among the few antibody tests authorized by the FDA, and they are among the most accurate being offered in the nation. The test UCHealth is offering is >98% specific meaning that there are fewer than 1 in 1,000 errors.”

That’s important when it comes to CC insurance.

UCHealth charges $100 for a needle-in-the-arm antibody test and $85 for a swab up the snout that tests whether someone currently has the virus. A member of the COVID team at Cigna, however, said because the FDA has approved the test, and because UCHealth administered it, our correspondent wouldn’t have to pay. “We are covering it for our members,” another Cigna rep said in a separate phone call.

We would advise anyone wanting to get tested to first reach out to their insurance company, whoever it is, to make sure antibody testing is covered and whether they will have to pay. If you do get tested, we also recommend making sure your medical provider properly codes your visit and the lab work as related to COVID-19 when they send it to your insurer. 

Here’s what CC says on its website about health plans and the virus:

“For employees and dependents covered by CC's health plan - we have worked with Cigna to update our health plan so that it will cover COVID-19 testing as a preventive service, with no copay, if testing is warranted. Any treatment required for plan members who test positive will be covered under normal plan provisions (deductibles, copays, coinsurance).”

Here’s what Colorado College says on its website about student health insurance plans and COVID-19:

“Colorado College SHIP participants have access to the following resources:

  • Anthem will waive co-pays for all diagnostic testing related to COVID-19. This policy will cover the test kit for patients who meet CDC guidelines for testing, which can be done in any approved laboratory location. Anthem will waive the member costs associated with diagnostic testing at any authorized location.

  • Anthem has telemedicine services available through LiveHealth Online. SHIP members should use telemedicine as their first line of defense in order to limit potential exposure in physician offices. To access begin here: https://livehealthonline.com/

  • COVID-19 Mental health resource hub
    We have joined with Psych Hub, a free digital hub to help our members with the stress resulting from COVID-19. This hub brings together a variety of resources to help members cope with social isolation, job loss and mental health issues.

  • Aunt Bertha social support services
    During this time, we understand members may need help with food, housing, job training, transportation and other social support. We're partnering with Aunt Bertha to connect individuals and families to social services in their communities. Members can access these services by visiting Aunt Bertha and entering their ZIP code.”

Other health care providers in the Springs have been offering antibody tests, too. A KKTV reporter got tested on air at a doctor’s office a couple weeks ago.

UCHealth has been doing the antibody testing in the Springs since last week, and spokesperson Cary Vogrin tells the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project she should have some data later this week about how the results are shaping up. UPDATE: On June 5, UCHealth released some numbers after a week of testing in Colorado, saying in a statement: “Of the 12,438 tests that had been performed as of June 3, 466 were positive – a rate of 3.7 percent.”

In early May, El Paso County’s medical director, Dr. Robin Johnson, penned a guest column for The Colorado Springs Business Journal warning that antibody testing is not a panacea. “At this point, antibody tests — the rare ones that are reasonably reliable and accurate at detecting antibodies that are specific to COVID-19 — are mainly good for two things: Helping epidemiologists study the spread of COVID-19 across populations, and helping doctors and scientists develop a vaccine,” Johnston wrote May 4.

“Regardless of whether you have antibodies or not, you should not change your behavior,” Dr. Zane of UCHealth stressed in a statement. “You should still physically distance from others, wear a mask if appropriate and wash your hands meticulously and often. It’s very important that you do not change your behaviors because we don’t know if the presence of antibodies will prevent you from potentially getting sick from COVID-19 again.”

As for our reporting team member who tested negative for antibodies on Friday, he struggled with how to feel about the results over the weekend. As a friend cynically told him Friday evening, It just means you’re ‘pre-’COVID.

We sure hope not.

CC or Bust: All college-led study away blocks for fall semester are canceled

On Wednesday, May 27, CC sent an email saying all fall semester CC blocks off campus are canceled. This includes the CC Semester in Latin America, classes in Europe and Asia, and domestic blocks, such as in New York and Chicago. 

From the announcement:

“This decision took into account health and safety standards in our program destinations, as well as broad restrictions on travel and entry into many nations. Even within the United States, the varying and quickly changing state-by-state restrictions make travel and study across the country an uncertain option.”

Updated plans for these classes have not yet been finalized, but some options include rescheduling classes for the spring semester, or offering them on campus or online in the fall. Students may also register for a different fall class. Aid awards will transfer to a rescheduled or alternate spring program. If students choose not to take a course, they will lose the existing award but will still be eligible for future aid. 

This decision to cancel shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In early March, CC canceled all CC-led study abroad programs for the spring semester, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending people avoid nonessential travel. Some are even questioning whether COVID-19 will permanently alter the structure of studying abroad. 

The University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Denver have also suspended some or all of their fall study abroad offerings; they’ll make further decisions closer to the start dates of specific programs.

CC employees, call your home office

Colorado College administrators are encouraging CC employees to continue working from home until Aug. 1, if they are able to do so. 

To work on campus, the college is first asking employees to:

  1. Report where and when you would be on campus to your supervisor/chair, and receive supervisor/chair approval.

  2. Fill out an online form about your plans, which CC says will be used so the custodial staff can provide additional cleaning in those areas.

The college also outlined CC’s “return to work policies” and workplace procedures. Below are some of the highlights.

Employees reporting to work on campus must:

  • Take their temperature before coming into the office. If their temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, they should not physically report to work.

  • Wear a mask or face covering at all times, except when working alone in an office or outside.

  • Wear disposable gloves when using shared equipment and use sanitizing wipes before and after use.

  • Practice social distancing, including staying at least six feet away from others in the workplace and not holding gatherings of more than 10 people.

  • Use elevators one person at a time.

  • Use touch-free bottle fillers. Campus water fountains will be out of service.

Sound familiar? That might be because CC says the procedures are modeled after federal and state guidelines. If you’re hoping for an in-person semester next fall, you might want to get familiar with those.

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

📬 Enter your email address to subscribe and get the newsletter in your inbox each time it comes out. You can reach us with questions, feedback, or news tips by emailing ccreportingproject@gmail.com.