Study funded by NC general assembly will test residents for COVID-19 antibodies


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new study in North Carolina is underway this week in which kits are being mailed to people’s homes to allow them to test themselves for COVID-19 antibodies.

The state General Assembly is providing the initial $100,000 to start the study, which is being led by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Health in partnership with Atrium Health.

“Leaders around the world are making decisions without reliable data,” Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

The tests are meant to determine if someone has developed antibodies, which is an indication they’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Berger acknowledged limitations of the study. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved at-home testing for COVID-19 antibodies.

“There will be bumps in the road, no question about that. The data collected will not be perfect,” he said. “But, the only way to start collecting better data, and I believe we will be collecting better data than is available at the present time, is to start collecting that better data.”

Dr. John Sanders, chief of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health, said the initial tests will go out to a random sample of people chosen from the existing pool of patients at Wake Forest Baptist. He said the goal is to use that sample to generalize to the broader population but acknowledged this could leave out people who don’t have access to healthcare, including some who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“That is an inherent weakness of the first blush of our reaching out to patients,” he said.

Sanders said part of the goal of this study is to better understand which tests work.

“We expect that over time we are going to learn that some tests are better suited than others,” Sanders said. “We feel it’s worth the cost to get data early and then adjust as we go forward and just be very transparent about that.”

People who receive the kits will prick a finger and use a drop of blood to determine if they have COVID-19 antibodies. They’ll receive a test every month for a year.

Scanwell Health, which is based in Los Angeles, is providing the kits.

Sanders cautioned people about the conclusions they can draw from the tests.

“I have repeatedly seen discussion of when the antibody tests are available, we’ll know who’s immune and who can go right back to work, who can do whatever. And, frankly, we don’t know that to be the case,” he said.

Sanders said he expects the first results to come back in about two weeks, around the time Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order is currently set to expire. The legislature is scheduled to go back into session on April 28.

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