A small Colorado ski town may soon learn exactly how many people the new coronavirus has infected in its community: The town of Telluride is offering coronavirus tests to all 8,000 of its residents for free.
Located in the Rocky Mountains, Telluride appears to be the first in the country to perform coronavirus testing on such a wide scale, according to ABC News.
Town officials will use so-called ELISA tests, which detect antibodies against the new coronavirus in people's blood. When a person is infected with the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, their immune system (opens in new tab) typically develops long-lasting antibodies against the virus within 10 days, ABC news reported. This means antibody tests can reveal what percentage of the population has ever been infected with the virus, even if those tested aren't currently infected. In contrast, tests used to diagnose the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, look for SARS-CoV-2's genes in samples taken from people's noses and throats, which indicate that a person is actively infected with the virus.
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The goal of the testing is to detect and contain community spread of COVID-19, and provide a more accurate picture of how widespread the disease is, according to United Biomedical, the company funding the testing. The information will help officials make decisions about whether quarantines (opens in new tab) and other restrictions are needed, and how widespread these restrictions should be in a given area, ABC News reported.
The strategy would be similar to what was done in Vo Euganeo, a small Italian town that tested all 3,300 of its residents for COVID-19 and reduced transmission by 90%, Live Science previously reported. After isolating the last few COVID-19 positive cases, Vo Euganeo reopened.
"Our goal is to show what mass testing, social distancing and isolation can do together to stop the spread of infection, and to create a model that could save lives worldwide," Mei Mei Hu and Louis Reese, co-founders of c19, the subsidiary of United Biomedical that developed the antibody test, said in a statement. (The company is starting with Telluride because Reese and Hu have a residence there.)
If the Telluride COVID-19 testing program is successful, it could be expanded to other coronavirus hotspots in the United States, ABC News reported.
San Miguel County, where Telluride is located, began the antibody testing last week, starting with health care workers, first responders, teachers and their families. As of Thursday (March 26), officials had collected more than 300 blood samples, according to a statement from San Miguel County's Department of Public Health and Environment. Residents interested in getting a test can pre-register online and will be notified 24 hours before they are to report for their test. So far, no one who has received the antibody test has tested positive, but one resident was confirmed to have COVID-19 through a diagnostic test, ABC News reported.
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Originally published on Live Science.