Best of the West Special Edition: Antibody testing in Oregon; telehealth’s increasing popularity in Colorado; how to lend a helping hand to fellow Westerners

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest COVID-19 related news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting April 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of Lindsay McAuley/WyoFile.

Antibody Testing: From a public health standpoint, knowing how many people have been previously infected by the novel coronavirus can be just as important as knowing how many people are currently infected. To determine if someone has been infected, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that researchers look for the presence of antibodies in an individual’s blood using a serology test. The results can be utilized for anything from determining immunity and tracking the spread of the disease to developing a potential vaccine. Discover how pathologists in Oregon plan to use serology tests to answer important questions about COVID-19.  

Coronavirus in Reservation Communities: Health officials are racing to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming through an aggressive testing program. As of April 16, the Wind River Family and Community Health Center had tested approximately 1,300 people, reports WyoFile. In comparison, just over 3,000 have been tested statewide. “We just wanted to make sure that we minimize the spread of COVID-19 within our tribal population,” said CEO Richard Brannan. “[Testing is] the only way you can figure out how widespread it is in your community. That’s the only mechanism you can use to decrease the infection rate.” Read more.

A Telehealth Revolution: With COVID-19 forcing many healthcare systems to close to nonessential or nonemergency visits, telehealth – providing medical attention remotely via digital means – has seen a remarkable increase in popularity in Colorado. According to The Colorado Sun, some larger health systems are seeing as much as a 2,000% increase in telehealth visits. “Through March, it’s been [an] absolutely exponential growth in demand,” said Dr. Chris Davis, medical director for Virtual Health in the UCHealth system. “We’ve made three years of progress in about three weeks.” Find out why many healthcare providers are working to keep that progress going, even after the immediate threat of the novel coronavirus passes.

Tracking COVID-19: For life to return to some semblance of normal, health officials maintain that a robust system of contract tracing will be required to monitor the proliferation of COVID-19. Contract tracing “requires investigators to track down each person who has come in contact with a contagious person, helping them isolate for a period of time to monitor for symptoms in order to stop the spread of the disease,” reports Route Fifty. State officials in Washington are looking to hire public health employees from across the U.S. to scale up their tracing abilities significantly. Learn how the rest of the country is following their lead.

Pitching In: COVID-19 has turned life upside down for communities across the West. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to lend a helping hand during this time of need. This includes, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, food bank donations, shopping for seniors and other vulnerable populations, giving blood, and crafting or donating personal protective equipment. Homeless shelters, foster families, and other nonprofits can also use assistance, as can animal shelters. Finally, everyone can help by staying home whenever possible, abiding by social distancing guidelines, and helping to flatten the curve. Here’s a list of ways you can assist recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest.  

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