COVID-19, antibody testing and immunity: what we do and don’t know. You’ve probably read in the news over the past few weeks that Public Health officials are hoping to expand antibody (also called serology) testing, and probably have some questions about what antibody testing could mean for you and Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
First, antibody testing allows us to determine if someone has had and recovered from COVID-19. Illnesses are caused when foreign substances, such as virus, bacteria or toxins (collectively called antigens), enter into the body. In order to heal, the body creates antibodies to attack antigens. Even after we’ve recovered, these antibodies remain in our blood supply— a permanent marker of what illnesses we’ve recovered from. We can use test for specific COVID-19 antibodies, and determine if someone has had the virus.
This is a big deal because it will help epidemiologists study the spread of COVID-19, and the more we know about COVID-19 the better we can combat it. This kind of testing is an important addition to the widespread testing for people who are currently sick, because it allows us to get data on who was infected before testing was available. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded in Skagit County in March, but it’s likely that it wasn’t the first occurrence of COVID-19 in our community. Antibody testing will potentially allow us to account for those cases that previously went unrecorded and better understand the spread, rate of transmission and other characteristics about COVID-19.
However, antibody testing is not part of the decision making process to lift the Stay Home, Stay Healthy restrictions. It is true that with some viruses antibodies make a person immune to the illness— meaning the person won’t contract it again. But this is not the case with all illnesses. Some viruses mutate so quickly that antibodies aren’t helpful long term (like the common cold or seasonal flu) and sometimes people don’t create enough antibodies to provide immunity. Research on COVID-19 is still inconclusive, and we do not know if a person who has recovered from COVID-19 will be immune going forward.
So what does this mean for you? Expanded antibody testing capability will be a great step forward in our ability to understand COVID-19 and could potentially help inform further research and policy, but it is not a get out of jail free card. Even those who are tested and found to have antibodies will still need to practice social distancing and good hygiene, and a majority will have to continue working as they have been under the stay home, stay healthy guidelines.
One final note: antibody testing capacity is still extremely limited. The University of Washington is the only lab in the State providing antibody tests right now and these tests have not been formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We are a long ways away from you being able to walk into your doctor’s office and get an antibody test. You can visit the UW’s FAQ page to learn more about their antibody testing.
All and all, we’re excited about antibody testing, but it doesn’t change much. We will still need to stay home to stay healthy. Please only leave your home for essential trips, and when in public, wear a mask and stay six feet apart from anyone you come in contact with. Wash your hands frequently. Please, continue to stay strong, stay home and stay healthy.
- Yesterday, Skagit County Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand issued guidance that the community should cancel or postpone all large scale events, including festivals, parades, fireworks shows and festivals through the summer. Read the full press release here. Following this guidance, Skagit County Parks, Recreation and Fair made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Skagit County Fair. Read a message from Fair Manager Aric Gaither here.
- Confused about Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan? Washington COVID-19 Washington State Department of Health published this great frequently asked questions page to help answer your confusion.
- Skagit Health Connection continues to put out high quality content. Check out their latest posts: COVID-19 and the Flu Don’t Compare and No Summer Events for 2020: Canceling our Wedding. Sign up at skagitcounty.blog to have posts sent straight to your inbox.
- Today, Governor Inslee issued guidance today for vehicle and vessel sales, and drive-in religious services allowed under the Safe Start Phase 1 recovery plan laid out earlier this week. You can view the full guidance here.