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HealthWise: Antibody Testing Now Available at NOCHS

NOCHS is now starting to test patients for COVID-19 antibodies. Here’s what you should know about the testing process.

Q.  Who can now be screened for COVID-19 antibodies?
A.  We can now screen anyone who receives a doctor’s order.  At this time we are not anticipating needing to limit the amount of tests that we perform, but will evaluate as we go along.

Q.  How do I get tested for COVID-19 antibodies?
A.  Please note: this testing process is different than screening for the virus itself. Your primary care physician is the one who will place the order for an antibody test. The test itself involves a blood draw at the NOCHS lab. Please contact your primary care physician if you want to discuss this test with him/her.

Q.  How long does it take to get the results?
A.  We need to run a certain number of tests at the same time to make it cost-effective. Depending on how much demand there is, and whether or not we have enough supplies to meet that demand, we may run the tests once per day or multiple times per week. As with other COVID-related testing, we will have to make smart decisions about limited resources. That said, we can safely say that test results are available within 24-48 hours.

Q.  Is this test covered by insurance?
A.  In a word: maybe. All of the COVID-19 testing is very new, and the rules are being worked out as we go.  The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) usually sets the benchmark for reimbursement. They set their rates, and private insurance companies typically follow suit. Please contact your insurance company directly about coverage.

Q.  What does it mean if I have a positive result?
A.  If you have COVID-19 antibodies, you have (or have had) the virus, even if you were not symptomatic. It also means that your body has developed some level of immunity.

Q.  If I screen positive for COVID-19 antibodies, does that mean I won’t get it again?
A.  This is a really important question for which science doesn’t have an answer. We know, generally speaking, that antibodies may not be effective forever and may not be universally effective. We can look to other illnesses to illustrate this; for example, shingles and chicken pox. Both of these illnesses are caused by related strains of the same virus. If you have chicken pox as a child, you will never get them again. Your antibodies protect you from the chicken pox strain of the virus. However, you can still get shingles as an adult. Those chicken pox antibodies don’t protect you from the shingles strain of the virus. COVID-19 is new. We don’t have the data to understand how long it takes for antibodies to form, how long the antibodies will be effective, or if they will be effective against multiple strains of this virus.

Q.  Why should people be tested for COVID-19 antibodies?
A.  This testing is important for two reasons. First, it helps employers determine if it is safe to have people in the workplace. Someone who tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies has already had the virus. It is unlikely they will get it again or infect other people. Second, the data collected through antibody testing is hugely important for science, especially when it comes to developing vaccines or other preventative measures.

Q.  Can I use this test to determine if I currently have COVID-19?
A.   NO. This is not a diagnostic test. If you are concerned about whether or not you currently have COVID-19, please contact our hotline at 616.935.7810. The clinical team will determine if you meet the criteria for testing. If you do, they will schedule an appointment at the drive-up testing center.

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