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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The hope that a positive COVID-19 antibodies test means you’re now safe from the virus might not be the case. The rush to push the tests out has caused a new public safety concern for some medical experts. The hopes of a normal life amid the COVID-19 crisis has been dashed by doctors who say there are still too many unknowns about COVID-19 and antibody testing to be confident in the results and what they mean. “It may give you the sense of security that you’re made of steel and can leap tall buildings, but the reality is that you’re not going to do much lifting if you have COVID-19,” said Dr. Steve Stites, KU Health System’s Chief Medical Officer. “The antibodies you have, if they really were for the common cold coronavirus and not the SARS-CoV-2, aren’t going to help you.” According to the CDC, human coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960’s, and there are seven that can infect people, including SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19. Only one COVID-19 antibodies test has been approved by the FDA. On Friday, the agency issued a warning that it doesn’t believe the current antibodies tests commercially available could truly distinguish between the different types of coronaviruses. “So you may test positive, but it may not be SARS-CoV-2 and give you a very false sense of security,” Stites said. And the one test the FDA has approved isn’t commercially available.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that there are currently no FDA-approved antibodies testing that can be done in an office setting,” said Dr. Sharon Lee, CEO of Family Health Care Center. It’s a lesson Lee learned the hard way. After ordering 5,000 COVID-19 antibodies test to use at her Family Health Care Clinic, she got a call from her supplier McKesson, canceling the order. “Because they explained to us that those test had been withdrawn from the market because the FDA determined they were fraudulent,” Lee said. She said there are, unfortunately, a lot of fraudulent antibody tests floating around. “So if anyone is telling anyone that they have access to a test that will do a finger stick test, those tests are not only not approved, they are not authorized by the FDA and they are probably fraudulent,” Lee said. Other tests have been granted a EUA, Emergency Use Order, but doctors warn there isn’t scientific data to determine if they work. “So one of the things that we worry about is for folks that do have a positive antibody test, we don’t know that they’re necessarily immune,” said Dr. Jennifer Schuster, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “So not only could they get reinfected with COVID-19 potentially and still get sick, they could be reinfected, have minor illness and then unknowingly transmit to somebody who could potentially have severe disease. So we don’t want people relying on these for a false sense of security.” Neither KU Hospital nor Children’s Mercy Hospital is using the available antibodies testing. Doctors said there’s too much they and scientists still don’t know about how COVID-19 behaves. They’re urging people to continue staying at home, washing their hands and social distancing. “Just be real careful out there,” Stites said. “I would say be thoughtful, be thoughtful about it before you go pay money.”