Coronavirus antibody tests could help reopen economy as we rebound from pandemic

Doctors say tests becoming more widely available
FDA to allow plasma from COVID-19 patients to experiment whether they contain antibodies
Posted at 10:19 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 01:09:00-04

DENVER -- As we rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, one thing that is likely going to help a lot are the antibody tests that show if you've had it or not, even if you were never symptomatic.

But, how do you know if the antibody test you're getting is legit? There are quite a few out there and there are quite a few scams, too.

Hilary Dempsey and several members of her family members recently got tested.

“I’m highly skeptical,” Dempsey said of her test. “All of the results came back negative.”

Dempsey is skeptical because she and many members of her family were sick for weeks and her mother had trouble breathing.

“We’ve been sick forever,” Dempsey said.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Whatever the case, Dr. Alan Miller, chief medical officer for oncology and associate chief medical officer for research at SCL Health, said testing is becoming more widely available.

“It is something that can give people hope,” Miller said.

There’s now a Colorado coalition of hospitals and blood centers working on antibody testing and plasma donations, in addition to the work of groups like the American Red Cross.

“Along with anti-viral treatments – this is all good news,” Miller said. “If someone has previously had a positive antibody test and they are at least 14 days without symptoms, the can donate plasma.”

Miller said the plasma can then help others suffering from COVID-19 fight off the virus.

“Plasma is very helpful in recovery,” Miller said. “It’s been used in other viral infections. It’s been used in the first SARS epidemic, in H1N1 flu and it’s been used in Ebola.”

But, he said, we should have guarded optimism.

“We still have to dampen our enthusiasm as to how much this is going to help,” Miller said. “The plasma should definitely be coming from a reputable blood center - like Children’s Hospital Colorado, Vitalant, Englund and St. Mary’s.”

As for the antibody tests, many private sector businesses are now offering them in metro Denver. Zvia in Lakewood is a med spa that normally specializes in things like Botox, but is now offering COVID testing and antibody testing while their non-essential services are shut down.

“Once they opened it up to private sector to start producing the tests, we immediately put ourselves on the list,” said Zvia owner Tom Higgins.

Higgins has a nurse practitioner on staff, Sharon Blumenthal, who convinced him they should offer testing since they had the resources and could no longer offer their typical non-essential services.

“We have a medical director who oversees us,” Higgins said. “We have medical professionals, nurse practitioners that work with us. We’re just doing this as a means to give back.”

While some for-profit and private companies are charging $250 per person for the tests, Higgins has kept his around $95.

“There’s a lot of tests that are out there,” Higgins said. “The test we are using is FDA Emergency Use Authorized by the government.”

Higgins said he’s not in it to make money. It’s simply a way to give back at a time when the community needs a helping hand.

“About 80% of our clients are those on the front lines who can’t even get the test where they work,” Higgins said. “But, we’re not sure if we’re going to keep doing this, because we are, of course, putting ourselves at risk.”