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Richland Clinic Using Latest Antibody Testing for COVID-19

Health officials, economists and political leaders are promoting antibody testing as one of the major components of getting COVID-19 under control. The tests are in high demand, but one Spencer County health clinic has acquired some. With patients testing positive, WNIN’s Sarah Kuper tells us, the question is what will officials do with the data?

Since Friday, a small town clinic in Richland, Indiana has had nine patients test positive for COVID-19 using an antibody blood test.

Monday afternoon, at the Governor’s daily press conference, Indiana State Health Commissioner Kristina Box spoke about whether officials will be considering positive results of antibody blood tests:

“It doesn’t tell us anything about an individual’s current state, whether they are infected. It’s not like the PCR that we do for the nasal pharyngeal swab to tell us someone is actively infected.”

But a few hours later, healthcare workers at Richland Family Practice received a call from the Spencer County health department with new guidelines. The state will count positive antibody test results and what’s more…

“(RS) It just changed, if you test someone and you feel like they are positive, even though their test is negative, from your clinical assessment you can call them positive and they are going to count those now.”

“(MN) If they have symptoms but test negative but you are the provider and you want to say “you’re positive” they are taking that now.”

 

Besides talk about the importance of the antibody test, the national conversation has also included concerns about the scarcity of tests and their validity. 

But somehow, Richland Family Practice’s Robin Strahl and Meagan Neighbors, with the help of the Spencer County health department, have their hands on, what they believe, are high quality tests. 

 Strahl said, “With our communication with the Spencer county health department, they were in contact with a gentleman out in California that was pivotal in getting this new American-based test out and to people that needed it. Places that wanted rapid testing, one of those places was Ft Bragg and Megan called and he’s like how in the world did you get my number so she spoke with him and I spoke with him and ask how do we get our hands on this test and so our order was put in with one of the big orders that shipped out first thing.” 

So far only one antibody test has achieved the FDA’s emergency use authorization and it isn’t the test at Richland Family Practice. Their tests are from Nirmidas Biotech. These tests have been “validated” for use but not FDA-approved yet. But Strahl said she is doing her homework:

“I talked to one of the scientists this morning and, from their records from this test and the thousands of tests they are doing out there through Sanford, their tests were 96% accurate.” 

The clinic began testing patients on Friday. That day, eight out of 17 patients tested positive for COVID-19 including a nurse and a law enforcement officer. Strahl says even with uncertainty surrounding the antibody tests the results are worth considering:

“To me, these are our healthcare workers, if we are talking do we release these people because this test isn’t the gold standard I say we err on the side of caution and keep these people home to stop the spread.”

Daniel Kinkaid was one of the patients tested on the 17th. He felt sick while on vacation in February but at that time, Richland Family Practice didn’t have any tests. When Strahl and Neighbors acquired the antibody test – they called him back to see if he was interested.

Kinkaid said, "They brought me in and had a tent set up outside, it was heated, the test was painless, small finger prick and within 15 minutes we had the results of the test.” 

Kincaid was negative for the IGM antibody (meaning he was not currently infected) and he was negative for the IGG antibody (meaning he likely has not ever had the virus).

He says he is relieved to know he wasn’t infecting others and he is impressed by his providers’ initiative to pursue the elusive antibody test.

Richland Family Practice is offering the antibody test to anyone. Despite the small size of their community, Strahl says she and Neighbors believe their patients deserve access to testing as much as patients anywhere else. 

Health Commissioner Box doesn’t discount antibody testing – she says it will be important in the future, but she is wary about poor quality tests.

“The unfortunate thing with some of these tests is that the antibodies are cross-reacting with antibodies - coronavirus antibodies for the common cold.”

It seems, decision-makers may still be figuring out how to factor in results from antibody testing. 

Strahl said, “Tomorrow they’ll probably say that none of these tests are right…”

Whether antibody testing begins to drive up the state count of COVID-19 cases or not, Strahl and Neighbors say once they run out of tests, they are going to try to get more – if only for the peace of mind of their community.