PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More Rhode Islanders will be able to sign up for a second round of serology testing.
The testing looks for antibodies and can tell if someone has been exposed to a virus, such as COVID-19. This differs from a PCR-based diagnostic test, which tells if someone has tested positive or negative for the virus.
Serology testing will also help health leaders figure out how prevalent COVID-19 could be in the state or a certain community, but does not indicate whether someone is immune to the virus.
In May, in an initial round of serology testing, the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH) sent invitations to 5,000 randomly selected Rhode Island households to be tested.
“In that randomized sample that we did, we found a seroprevalence of 2.2%, meaning that 2.2% of people who were tested had been exposed to the virus that caused COVID-19,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said in Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing.
RIDOH adds higher seroprevalences were seen among Hispanic Rhode Islanders and African American Rhode Islanders.
According to the RIDOH, those in certain high-contact professions will be able to schedule a test online starting Friday.
RIDOH says this includes its own staff members, plus first responders (police, fire and emergency services personnel), Rhode Island National Guard members, correctional facility workers, and healthcare staff from hospitals and nursing homes.
For this reason, most testing sites will be located at, or near, those places of work, according to RIDOH.
Care New England says it is participating in this round of testing, and is recruiting for it soon.
The testing is voluntary, RIDOH says, and volunteers will have results about four days after the test is administered.
To participate in this serology testing effort, RIDOH says someone must:
- Be currently working as a first responder (police, fire, or emergency medical services), Rhode Island National Guard member, RIDOH employee, correctional facility worker, or a hospital and nursing home staff member in Rhode Island. (Employee ID will be required to participate).
- Not have COVID-19 symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test within the last two weeks, and
- Have a valid mobile phone number or email address to receive test results.
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Doctors say the importance of the two-week timeline is because antibodies take anywhere from seven to 14 days to develop, though after 14 days, tests are more sensitive to picking up past infection.
The testing effort is in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Rhode Island was one of three sites selected across the United States for participation in this serology testing effort — along with Detroit and New York City.
Philip Chan, MD, MS, the Consultant Medical Director of the RIDOH’s Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease, and Emergency Medical Services. Chan is one of the doctors overseeing the study for RIDOH.
Rhode Island was the only full state selected for the testing, which Chan says is likely due to the size of the state.
“When we talk about wrapping our hands around the state, it’s much easier here than elsewhere,” Chan said. “I think that’s one of the appeals and one of the reasons why the CDC chose us, is so we could really do our statewide population.”
Chan says it’s important to note results from the antibody tests will not tell you if you are currently positive or negative for COVID-19, or if you’re immune to the virus.
“But we actually expect to use this study and others to help monitor that, to see if people who have antibodies can actually get the virus again,” Chan said.
Quest Diagnostics is the laboratory that will be analyzing the samples collected.
Earlier this week, Quest acknowledged that despite a “dramatic increase” in its COVID-19 molecular diagnostics testing capacity, demand for testing is increasing even faster. As a result, Quest said its average turnaround time for reporting test results is slightly more than one day for its priority 1 patients, but average turnaround time for all other populations is seven or more days.
Chan says for Rhode Islanders not to worry about this, as there is less demand for serology tests, which are run on a different platform.
For more information about this serology testing effort, you can call Quest Diagnostics at (833) 670-0253.