Earlier this month, State Urgent Care of Starkville announced they would begin offering COVID-19 antibody testing. Before the antibody testing was made available, State Urgent Care only tested using the nasal swab method to tell whether a symptomatic patient was positive or negative for COVID-19. By using the antibody testing method, a patient can tell whether or not they have been previously exposed to the virus regardless of the presence of symptoms.
According to Kristi Robertson, a nurse practitioner with State Urgent Care, the test works by testing the patient's blood for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies which indicate previous exposure.
Robertson said the ability to test for previous exposure is valuable information to patients for many different reasons.
"We have some people who were previously not diagnosed for flu or strep but still showed symptoms who are interested. We have some patients who come to get tested out of curiosity or just to ease their minds," Robertson said. "Some people just get the testing to confirm a normal COVID-19 test."
Sushil Dahal, a senior at Mississippi State University in biological sciences, understands the importance of local testing options being available and believes it is important for people to stay informed of their options.
"Testing can be done, and we can prevent spreading. Positive cases could be given required treatment or put in isolation if required. Even the negative results should be kept in consideration because a patient may have had the virus but not shown any symptoms," Dahal said. "Most important is people know where to go if they think they acquired the virus or want to stay aware."
Although testing is now more readily available to patients and regulations have began to ease, Robertson said she believes patients must continue to maintain the healthy behaviors originally advised.
"The most important thing here is that you do not want people to be scared, but you do not want them to be too relaxed either," Robertson said. "Even though some of the restrictions are starting to loosen up, you do not want people to get careless. Keep your hands off your face, wash your hands and keep safe distancing."
In fact, Robertson warned the research behind COVID-19 is not developed enough for a positive antibody test to be seen as protection from the virus.
"The caveat to all this is that if you come out with antibodies, the jury is still out on how much protection that gives you. It tells you that you were exposed, but it is not giving the green light to do whatever," Robertson said. "The studies are still being done, and we do not know how much benefit these antibodies provide in terms of short-term immunity or otherwise. We just do not know yet."
Angus Dawe, department head and professor in MSU's Department of Biological Sciences, echoes this same caution and maintains regardless of the outcome of the antibody testing, patients should still follow the recommended precautions.
"The test itself does not provide anything aside from knowledge about exposure. We really do not know at this point whether what would be picked up in the tests will be sufficient to provide any immunity at all. It is just information," Dawe said. "I do not think it should fundamentally change the way people should behave. In my opinion, people should still be cautious and careful about their interactions with others."
Robertson said State Urgent Care is a walk-in clinic, and all patients have to do is show up to be tested. If a patient is showing symptoms, such as fever or dry cough, they need to let the clinic know before they arrive. Nasal swabs are limited and reserved for those showing symptoms, while antibody testing is not limited. After testing, results will be available within two to three days after the visit.