ST. LOUIS — A test that some believe could bring an end to the coronavirus lockdown is now here in St Louis.
COVID-19 antibody tests are designed to let you know if you've been in contact with the virus in the past, and if your body has developed a possible immunity to it.
Across the world, there's hope that this kind of testing could reopen society and send millions of people back to work with 'immunity badges'.
ARCpoint Labs in Creve Coeur is one of the first in the region to offer a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies. It's a test available to anyone who hasn't had any coronavirus symptoms for at least seven days.
"It tests for the two antibodies which are the response to the COVID-19 virus," said Scott Lambert, president of ARCpoint Labs St. Louis West.
Those antibodies could provide a level of immunity.
"If it acts like other viruses similar to COVID-19, you would typically expect a level of immunity of six months to a year," said Lambert.
Anyone with antibodies could go back to work, back to school, back to emergency rooms without fear of infection. Lambert said many of the people being tested at this early stage are medical professionals who are in regular contact with those infected. The test could reunite healthy relatives with those who need care.
More than 70 companies are selling these tests now that the FDA has waived its initial review process due to the pandemic.
"It's a little bit concerning to me," said Dr. Alex Garza, Commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. "You really have to be confident in the accuracy of the test. The only way to do that is to validate it in some place like our lab."
"What we're finding is that everyone wants to make good decisions. There's just no data to help them do it," said Lambert.
Yet, Lambert says the test does have limitations.
"The antibody tests are not able to distinguish whether the antibodies were generated in response to COVID-19 or several other non-SARS-COV-2 coronavirus strains such as HKU1, NL63, OC43 or 229E," said Lambert. He explains that information is part of the disclaimer element on the Guidelines form patients receive.
Some doctors tell the I-Team they worry that since the test is not able to look for Covid-19 antibodies specifically, there could have been several subtypes of coronavirus in circulation which some people may have been exposed too already. That could give people a false sense of security.
Lambert echoes what he's heard from ARCpoint's medical staff, which is that the presence of the antibodies from another stain may provide a level of protection from the Covid-19 virus.
The CDC has also developed an antibody test, also known as a Serology test. According to their website, they hope the results of their testing will allow them to estimate how many people have been infected nationally. "The results will also provide information about the percentage of U.S. residents who have not had COVID-19 and are still at risk for infection. This research is designed to help us understand who has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and determine factors that confer protection against this virus."
Whether the presence of Covid-19 or Coronavirus antibodies means you're immune for any amount of time is still uncertain.
Last week, a local company had dozens of its employees tested for the antibodies. Lambert said he tests his staff weekly but ongoing testing is key.
Lambert said more than 95% of people his lab has tested are negative for antibodies. Meaning they likely haven't been exposed to the virus.
"You're like the rest of us. Need to social distance and continue to be very careful," said Lambert.
If you're negative, Lambert says you're still at risk of infection and you should continue to be careful about who you come into contact with.
"It's helped a lot of people feel more comfortable about the decisions they have to make," said Lambert.
There are a few types of positive results. You can have one of the antibodies, IgM, which may indicate you're still battling the virus and still contagious. If you only test positive for the IgG antibody, that could indicate you're over the infection. If you test positive for both IgM and IgG, it is likely you are in the middle stage of infection.
Accuracy in question
With no oversight, Dr. Garza questioned how accurate these tests are
and if they could give people a false sense of security.
"I would hold off until we've done more of those studies, so we can better understand the accuracy of them. I would hate for someone to get a test result that we were not very confident that the result really reflected what was going on," said Garza.
Yet as the number of positive cases continues to grow, the demand for immediate results isn't slowing down.
Lambert admitted if we were not in a pandemic, the testing his lab is offering would not be permitted.
"None of these [tests] have gone through the normal FDA rigor. What they've basically said is, 'Anyone that can make a viral test that you're comfortable using, go for it.' So, it's kind of just the times we're in," said Lambert.
As of Tuesday, ARCpoint is no longer offering the rapid testing which produced results in under 20 minutes. Lambert had been seeking guidance from the state entity that oversees laboratories, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). He said CLIA is now saying they do not have the authority to authorize the rapid testing. 5 On Your Side is still awaiting comment from CLIA.
Current available testing requires a blood draw and 24 to 48 hours for results. The cost is upwards of $160.
For more information and to book an appointment, visit ARCpoint Labs St. Louis website.