Summit County Emergency Blog

Emergency blog
Activated during disasters and emergencies to provide critical public information. Administered by the Summit County Office of Emergency Management.

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Apr 23

Antibody Testing: Hope or Hype?

Posted on April 23, 2020 at 2:06 PM by Sarah Wilkinson

As our community considers opening businesses and amending our public health orders, it will be helpful to find out how many people are immune to the disease, have had a very mild case, or no symptoms at all. This may be determined by antibody testing.

However, even though there are companies distributing antibody kits (known as rapid serological test kits), as of April 21, 2020, according to a release from CDPHE, none of these tests have been approved by the FDA for any purpose other than research. 
Some of the tests being marketed directly to consumers have been shown to have little or no ability to determine exposure to COVID-19. Many of the tests are unable to determine the strength of the antibody response or distinguish between antibodies developed by exposure to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) or exposure to other seasonal respiratory viruses.

What’s the harm in using a test that isn’t approved?

We understand and want to reopen our community and economy as soon as possible, but use of inaccurate tests may give a false sense of safety and lead to a person not following necessary protections like wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing. For example, if a person receives a positive test and then believes they can visit their elderly parent and the test is wrong, they may unknowingly expose those around them due to their belief that they are immune. 

It is important to note that at this time, there are no tests for immunity, since it is not known whether antibodies for the virus will correlate with immunity, how long immunity may last, nor whether individuals can become reinfected. There are four antibody tests that are currently approved by the FDA under Emergency Use Authorization for use by healthcare providers and sent to medical laboratories. These tests are still being evaluated since they have produced false positives from picking up antibodies developed by exposure to viruses other than the one that causes COVID-19.

When will Summit County start antibody testing?

Governor Polis has assembled an antibody testing task force to vet products coming to the market. The Public Health department will be working together with local healthcare providers, along with guidance provided by CDPHE, to assess the possibility of implementing antibody testing in our community. There are large organizations (e.g. National Jewish) that are offering antibody testing to the general public as part of a large population based study- but individual results are still not reliable on a case to case basis. We do believe that once accurate antibody tests are developed and approved, they will be an important part of Summit County’s Roadmap to Recovery.