San Miguel County in Colorado has, in ordinary times, fewer than three full-time employees in its public-health department. It has no hospital. Its total population is only 8,000. And yet last week, the county became the first in the United States to announce that it would be offering all its residents a new kind of test for COVID-19.
The tests are being donated by United Biomedical, a multinational biotech company whose executives, a married couple, happen to live part of the year in Telluride, the resort town that is also San Miguel’s county seat.
“It’s a small community,” Mei Mei Hu of United Biomedical told me on the phone from Colorado this weekend. “Very small,” her husband, Lou Reese, added. “Whether it’s just getting a donut or walking by on the street or on the ski hill with the ski patrol,” he said, “we know and have met or interacted with almost every member of the medical or emergency community here throughout the course of our lives.”
Hu and Reese—along with Hu’s mother, Chang Yi Wang, who is United Biomedical’s chairwoman—are the founders of the company’s new COVID-19–focused subsidiary, c19. United Biomedical has facilities in New York, China, and Taiwan, and it develops animal vaccines as well as diagnostic kits for human diseases. So when the novel coronavirus first appeared in China, the company started working on testing, and when cases started showing up closer to home, Hu and Reese thought of their community in Telluride. They floated the idea of testing the county to an old family friend, who also happens to be the area’s chief paramedic. Like they said, it’s a small community.