Covid retests return two positives out of 17, muddying picture of ‘outbreak’ in S. Vermont

Photo illustration by Fernando Zhiminaicela

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

More than 1,000 people sought testing in Manchester and Londonderry on Wednesday and Thursday as the extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in these southern Vermont communities grew more unclear with only two of six 17 retests coming back positive. (Updated at 11:40 a.m. Friday, July 17)

A third day of testing continued in Manchester on Friday, July 17.

While Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has acknowledged the reports of positive tests at the Manchester Medical Center, the state’s official numbers still do not reflect those tests. At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Levine said the Manchester tests were antigen tests and returned 59 positive results. Levine emphasized that the antigen tests should be conducted on those who have symptoms.

Of those, about six positives were retested with the conventional PCR test and, oddly, only two came back positive for Covid-19. Levine was puzzled by the low positive return because, he explained, the antigen tests fault is in false-negatives, not false-positives.

Dr. Janel Kitteredge-Sterling of the Manchester Medical Center has maintained that a positive result from an antigen test for coronavirus is a positive result, end of story. Multiple attempts to reach her over the past few days for comment were unsuccessful.

Levine said that there could be a couple of explanations for the difference. It is possible for someone who is positive in the first test to be negative in the second if enough time has elapsed between the tests, Levine said.

He added, “It’s hard to be overly critical of choosing to have this test available. It’s usually not the test that’s the issue, it’s the clinicians use of the test and how informed they are about it and how they react to the result. So Manchester Medical took that upon their shoulders in choosing this test and they’ve shown an understanding of the test characteristics and its an approved test. The problem is that it’s been approved very recently and this is why so many questions are coming up now.

He did emphasize however that this was “not a false alarm.”

Official numbers don’t match reports

On Tuesday, Dr. Levine acknowledged the Covid positive tests that were reported Monday, and explained that they are not in the official numbers yet since they were done with a type of tests that yields accurate positive results by less accurate negative results.

The day before, The Telegraph reported that Londonderry Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie had confirmed that at least 18 people from that town had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 illness. In addition, Manchester Town Manager John O’Keefe and Health Officer Dr. Tom Sterling released a statement saying that a total of 30 — including those from Londonderry and other mountain towns had tested positive over the weekend.

Those tests were antigen tests performed at the Manchester Medical Center.

Also on Tuesday, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith spoke of a “possible outbreak” in the Londonderry/Manchester region. “Let me just say this as a general warning, that may pertain to this case…but also to others. Do not travel out of state to a region that is not within our trusted travel designation, then fail to quarantine upon your return, and instead of quarantining attending social gatherings that are bound to have close contact.”

Smith said he was trying to remind Vermonters to do their part and be vigilant and that risky behavior can lead to outbreaks. Smith later said he wanted people to be aware of that pattern.

Asked if his travel and quarantine comments were about the situation in Londonderry, Smith said “It’s related to Londonderry and other places.” Smith would not be more specific about details.

“We’re going to get plenty of phone calls from people who say they need access to testing but didn’t get it,” said Levine. To find Covid-19 testing sites near you, click here.

“This is only the second instance of the use of one of these antigen platforms that I am aware of, so we’re very happy actually that the MMC alerted us to these,” said Levine, “It’s not in the normal way of information passage that we would normally understand PCR results in. I’m just delighted they are working with us in this way.”

Meanwhile, in Londonderry, which has recorded at least 18 positives through the antigen test, the Select Board on Wednesday voted to order that masks be worn inside businesses. For more on that story, click here.

 

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