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Utah testing COVID-19
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Antibody testing one step closer to tackling COVID-19 in Utah

Gov. Gary Herbert, donned a face mask during the daily COVID-19 briefing. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, April 7, 2020)

SALT LAKE CITY – How many people are already immune to the coronavirus?  We may know soon, as doctors in Utah say local and national labs are getting closer to antibody testing. These tests could have a big impact on how and when Utah gets back to normal.

Less than one week ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first coronavirus antibody test.   Research that goes into making other kinds of antibody tests is still happening across the country.

Antibody testing in Utah

Utah State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn says, “The CDC is working to develop a serology or a blood test to determine if somebody has antibodies to COVID-19.  I know, locally, ARUP is doing something similar.”  ARUP, or Associated Regional and University Pathologists, Inc.,  is a national reference laboratory and a nonprofit enterprise of the University of Utah, and its Department of Pathology.

Dunn says this kind of testing is a very important part of any kind of pandemic response.  The testing lets doctors find people who have already been exposed to the virus and anyone who might have potential immunity to it.  The tests are still in the development stage.

“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks, we will potentially be able to use this test,” Dunn said.

Tracking those who’ve already recovered from COVID-19

The death toll from COVID-19 in Utah remained at 13 as of April 7, but over 34 thousand people have been tested and 1,738 have come back with a positive result.  The state is still working to track how many of these patients have already recovered from their illness.

Dunn says state-owned and private labs have the capacity to test a lot more people than they have been.  In the past, doctors would reserve tests for people who were feeling symptoms and who had known exposure to COVID-19 coronavirus.  However, Dunn says these restrictions can be relaxed to let more people be examined.

“People who are symptomatic can seek out testing if their provider thinks they’re an appropriate person to be tested for COVID-19, we do have the capacity to test them,” she said.

The fine line between good and bad with more testing

However, there is a potential problem with increasing the number of tests.

“Local hospitals and laboratories are potentially worried about a swab shortage,” Dunn said.  But she also says they’re working to ensure labs have all the equipment they need.

Recent projections show Utah will have enough beds and supplies to treat the expected number of patients.  Unified Command will decide if the state will send any ventilators to other states hit harder by the virus.

 

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