COVID-19 cases continue to climb

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Alabama, so does testing availability. Now, antibody testing is available at local clinics.

Alabama surpassed 10,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Monday evening, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

Nearly 130,000 tests had been administered at the time.

More than 400 deaths related to COVID-19 had also been reported.

More than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed nationwide, with 79,935 deaths. 

More than 216,000 have recovered. 

When a person becomes infected with a virus, such as the novel coronavirus, their body begins producing antibodies to fend off the infection. Since a large number of people with the virus can show little to no symptoms, several clinics in Marshall County have started testing patients for COVID-19 antibodies to determine whether or not they have unknowingly had the virus in the past.

The Reporter spoke with several local clinics about the antibody tests they are offering and how people can get one. Mainstreet Family Care in Arab, Premier Family Care in Arab and Lakeside North Urgent Care in Guntersville have all started offering COVID-19 antibody tests, which, unlike the viral test, uses a blood sample typical of average doctor’s office lab work. 

Nurse Rachel George, with Lakeside North, said the antibody test isn’t for people who currently have the disease, but it is 98%-100% accurate in determining whether or not a person has the antibodies after at least 14 days from being infected. However, just because a person has antibodies, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t get infected with the coronavirus a second time.

“They’re still studying that, so just because they test positive and it shows that they did have it in the past does not mean that they cannot get it again,” George said.

She said most insurance companies would cover the cost of the tests, but a patient without insurance would need to pay $100 for an exam and lab work.

Dr. Jesse Youngblood, a family medicine doctor with Premier, said his office began offering the antibody tests due to increased patient demand for them.

 “The hard part with the coronavirus, to be honest, is what does a positive test mean? And the jury’s still out on that,” Youngblood said. “We have decided to offer it to patients because we have so many patients requesting it… We would anticipate that it reflects some degree of immunity, but there are no studies to prove that.”

Aside from the test’s accuracy, the predictive power of the results would largely depend on the prevalence of the virus in the area where a patient lives.

“Every test has a certain sensitivity and specificity based on statistics,” Youngblood said. “If you’re in an area where you have very few cases, then even though the  sensitivity and specificity of the tests are the same in every location, if you have a very low prevalence of the disease in an area, then a positive test doesn’t have as much of what’s called a ‘predictive value’ than it does in other places... If you’re in an area that has a lot of cases, then a positive test is more reliable.

“In this area of Marshall County, a positive test is going to be less predictive of a true infection than you would get in New York where you have a lot more of the cases,” he added.

While antibiotic immunity is currently uncertain, the tests can still be useful in helping people make safety decisions. He said the majority of test requests have come from people who are either themselves at a higher risk of exposure and infection or live with someone who is. 

“They’re just wanting something to help them to determine what their protective steps need to be,” Youngblood said. “The hard part is, the test doesn’t really give you definitive answers, but it can provide additional information for people to make better decisions.”

More information about antibody testing can be found at the clinics’ websites or by calling them directly.

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