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Special announcement: The antibody question
BETHANY POWLS Editor-in-Chief
For many students here on campus, catching COVID-19 comes with a silver lining: antibodies that can prevent repeat illness. Many also have the misguided belief that a positive antibody test can spare them the two-week torture of quarantining after a close contact tracing. However, this is not the case. Geri Tyrell, director of the Department of Nursing, laid out the science behind different COVID-19 tests, and why students should save their cash.
Tests for COVID-19 can be done in two ways: a diagnostic test or an antibody test. Diagnostic tests, which produce results by detecting the SARS-CoV2 viral material inside the sample, can be done via molecular test or an antigen test. Molecular tests, also known as PCR tests, take several days to indicate an infection, and can be done with a nasopharyngeal, nasal, throat swab, or saliva test. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction, referencing the way the sample reveals the presence of an active infection. Antigen tests, on the other hand, detect specific viral proteins from the sample, given nasally or nasopharyngeally. These tests are rapid, often producing results in a window of fifteen to thirty minutes. They can diagnose COVID-19, but work better when the patient is symptomatic. Asymptomatic individuals may require further confirmation with a molecular test.
Antibody tests, the other category of tests, are blood tests that look for specific antibodies that an exposed individual’s immune system develops to fight off an infection. The sample can be collected in several ways, including finger sticks and blood draws, and can return results anywhere between fifteen minutes and several days depending on the form of the sample. Finger sticks are the quicker method, with the serum blood draw taking several days. The development of antibodies can take days or weeks after the infection and not much is known about their longevity. Sadly, as a result of the ambiguity of antibodies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that antibody tests cannot be used to diagnose COVID-19 and further, that the presence of antibodies does not establish immunity in the individual who has them.
Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that more data must be acquired on antibody tests before any changes in policy for public health recommendations. As a result of rulings from both the CDC and the FDA, coupled with the knowledge that the antibody tests does not indicate active COVID-19 infection, neither local health departments nor the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tracks antibody test results.
So, what does this mean for students and staff at Bethel College? If one were to go to a local pharmacy or other antibody testing facility and take the antibody test, and later be exposed to the virus and get contact traced, their antibody results would not be able to get that individual out of quarantine. In Tyrell’s words, “I would not spend the $25 or $99 depending on the test you get, because it only provides you with information and you are still in quarantine.” Threshers, you heard it hear first: save the cash and get yourself some Bethel Swag instead.