Large-scale antibody testing could come to Washington

A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, N.Y. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved faster testing protocols as the viral outbreak continues to spread worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday state officials are reviewing the possibility of using antibody testing, to retroactively measure the spread of the coronavirus.

He said the testing wouldn’t be used as a way to clear those who test positive to return to work, however, KUOW reported.

Inslee said state officials had been talking with the manufacturer Abbott Laboratories, Inc, “about the potential of expanding large-scale surveillance antibody testing in the state.”

Abbott’s Covid-19 antibody test, which is done through a blood draw, is already being used by the University of Washington’s Virology Lab. The test detects coronavirus antibodies, the proteins created by the immune system in response to the presence of a virus.

Virology Lab officials have reported the test has a perfect rate of detecting antibodies in those who have them. However, they’ve cited a 99.6% rate of specificity, meaning there’s potential to see false positives for those who haven’t produced coronavirus antibodies.

The Abbott test must be ordered at the discretion of a health care provider —many of whom have been reluctant — per the Virology Lab’s current protocols. It wasn’t immediately clear how testing referrals would work if Abbott’s test was adopted at the state level.

“We think this can have potential utility as a surveillance tool to let us know what the presence of the disease really is,” Inslee said.

Inslee said the tests wouldn’t be used to issue social clearance to people who test positive, citing conventional scientific wisdom that the protective qualities of Covid-19 antibodies remain undetermined.

More than 15,590 people in the state have tested positive and at least 862 people have died from the coronavirus. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

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