COVID-19 antibody tests to be provided for county employees

Robert Smith

Osage County employees will be able to receive COVID-19 antibody tests next Monday and Tuesday at a mobile medical unit parked at the county courthouse, District 1 County Commissioner Randall Jones announced Monday.

Jones said he talked with several companies about possibly providing the tests, and found one company with a mobile medical unit that could be dispatched to Osage County. Insurance will pay for the tests, he said, clarifying that neither county employees nor county government will be charged for the service.

The tests do not determine if a person has COVID-19; rather, they determine if a person developed antibodies as a result of a previous COVID-19 exposure. Not everyone who is infected with the illness displays symptoms, but the body of an asymptomatic person can generate antibodies in response to exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“They will contact you with your results,” Jones said, offering an assurance for employees that their individual test results will not be shared with county government. Rather, each individual who is tested will receive his or her test results, and county government will be told how many people were positive for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies.

Employees will need to bring their health insurance cards with them when being tested, Jones said.

“This is just a blood test and it’s strictly voluntary,” he said. Jones explained he was trying to make it convenient for employees to have antibody testing done, by arranging for the service to be brought to them. He added that he wanted other elected officials to know about the testing, so they would be able to make time for their employees to be tested. He mentioned that the mobile unit might be able to make trips to Skiatook and Fairfax to make testing more convenient for employees there.

In other business Monday related to the COVID-19 pandemic, county commissioners left in place guidelines adopted to allow officals to control the flow of people into the courthouse and other buildings where county governmental functions are conducted. They did this even though they knew there were fewer than five active cases of COVID-19 remaining in the county. The commissioners indicated they were not yet ready to relax restrictions.

Deputy Matt Clark, a member of the courthouse security team, said general public visitation to the building seems to be picking up and he assured the commissioners that personal protective equipment is available to visitors who wish to avail themselves of it.

During discussions of COVID-19 and courthouse groundrules almost a week earlier — on Tuesday, May 26, right after Memorial Day — Clark had suggested to the commissioners that they might want to go ahead and reopen the structure to normal traffic and functioning, but the county board members weren’t ready for that step.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney asked his colleagues and other county officials how county government would go about reinstating restrictions if they were lifted and then another wave of COVID-19 infection made its way into Osage County.

District Attorney Mike Fisher said it would take a formal action of the commissioners to reinstitute safety measures if they had been relaxed or eliminated.

McKinney moved to keep existing restrictions in place, observing that it was hard for the board to be sure how soon it might be safe to begin to loosen things up.

“It’s going to be a week-to-week deal. We don’t know if we need to keep it like this for six weeks, either,” McKinney said May 26.

Jones agreed to extend restrictions on the use of county office buildings, but argued that everyone — employees and visitors alike — needed to follow the same set of rules, rather than employees being allowed to operate on a less-restrictive basis than the general public. He also pointed out that county employees worked in the courthouse for the two months that it was closed to general public access, and they were going into the building and cleaning it without wearing masks.

The commissioners heard May 26 from Clark that it had been somewhat difficult to get some employees, especially ones who had worked in the courthouse for many years, to follow instructions.

The county board will also continue to hold its weekly meetings at the Ag Building at the fairgrounds. Concerns have been voiced about the commissioners’ courthouse meeting room being too small to accommodate everyone who wants to attend the meetings while continuing to observe social distancing guidelines.