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New Hampshire ramps up COVID and antibody testing

(WCAX)
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 5:39 PM EDT
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New Hampshire has been ramping up diagnostic testing but is also focusing on antibody testing to try to find out how many people may have already had COVID-19 and recovered from the disease. Our Adam Sullivan got the antibody test on Thursday and shows you the process.

It's just like a routine blood draw or blood donation. A tiny prick of a needle and a quick sample, which is quite different from the active COVID-19 test which I also received, which was a little more uncomfortable. Both tests are part of New Hampshire's effort to get a clearer picture of the pandemic.

The appointment at the Clear Choice MD Clinic in Lebanon began with getting my vitals checked. My temperature and blood pressure were fine. No cough, no shortness of breath.

Back in January, however, I did get really sick with flu-like symptoms. Because New Hampshire is now testing for antibodies, I wanted to find out if I could have caught the coronavirus but didn't know it.

"As production has ramped up across the country, we have simply been able to get more kits. So that has provided the opportunity to get where we are but we want to keep going," said Gov. Chris Sununu, R-New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is averaging a little more than 200 antibody tests a day thanks to a new partnership with the urgent care health care company. Doctors there say the antibody test I received has a 99.4% accuracy rate.

"Specificity means how specific is it to detect the coronavirus 19. Not other viruses, not the previous SARS virus or MERS or cold or any other type that could look the same. You can bet if the antibody test is positive, 99.4% of the time, you have had coronavirus, not some other virus that is out there," said Dr. Ron Greenberg of Clear Choice MD.

But what's not known about the tests is how much, if any, immunity the antibodies in the blood provide. That means anyone with COVID-19 antibodies can't just throw social distancing guidelines and good hygiene out the window.

"We don't know if that confirms immunity or we don't know if it confirms immunity, how long it lasts or if it is something that is going to be ongoing. And that study is still ongoing at the present time," Greenberg said.

Despite not showing any signs for COVID-19, I also received the nose swab to test whether I currently have the virus. That test was a little more uncomfortable and made my eyes water. New Hampshire is administering close to 2,000 of those tests a day.

Despite having no symptoms, mine was recommended with the antibody test.

New Hampshire has drastically loosened requirement for anyone wants to be tested, including anyone over 60, people with underlying health issues or anyone at any age who reports symptoms.

"The fact that you can now request a test online and self-attest to it. You don't need a doctor's note anymore," Sununu said. "I did not think were are going to be here just a few weeks ago."

Moving forward, the data will be used to help paint a bigger picture of how prevalent the disease is, and has been, across the region.

"So the more data we have, the more important it is for us to determine when do we get back to normalcy? When do we start opening up? How many people are possibly immune or have had the disease? Is it more widespread than we thought before?" Greenberg said.

I'm told my test results could take anywhere from a day to six days to get back.

The Vermont Health Department has set up a working group to evaluate the antibody tests currently on the market, but right now, they say there is not a test accurate enough to warrant use by the general public.

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