Ample, Highly Accurate Antibody Tests to go Widescale Inside the Month

May 11, 2020, 2:33 PM HST (Updated May 11, 2020, 2:41 PM)
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“I’m pretty sure I’ve already had coronavirus.”

Anyone who lives in Hawai‘i has likely heard some variation of this now common sentiment from at least one friend or family member. Many have said it themselves. And soon, residents of the state will be able to find out for sure.

Antibody testing arrived on Hawai‘i Island for public use over the weekend, and Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said Monday he thinks widescale surveys will be underway across all islands inside of the month. The testing is currently being offered only to those previously identified as having had the coronavirus or those with high-risk exposures including healthcare workers, first responders and family members/those with close contact to known positives.

“When we’re ready to do large-scale surveys, this is going to be a very serious weapon in our arsenal,” Green said. “This is mostly good for epidemiologic work. It’s telling you where your state is and how vulnerable your state will be.”

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Clinical Labs can run at least 1,000 of the chosen antibody tests daily, Green added, and will quickly ramp up to 5,000 tests daily. Ample drive-through testing will be available when supplies are plentiful enough, but so will randomized statewide surveys to develop a sense of scale for Hawai‘i’s exposure.

The number one question has been how accurate antibody tests are likely to be, as several tests on the market have proven to be fraudulent or dangerously inaccurate, offering false positives and a false sense of security to people who don’t actually possess any immunity to COVID-19.

Hawai‘i will be employing the Abbott Labs Antibody Test, a blood test that a recent University of Washington study found “had 99.9% specificity and 100% sensitivity for detecting the IgG antibody in patients 17 days or more after symptoms began.”

“You could get some false negatives,” Green said, “but when it’s positive, it’s very clearly COVID-19.”

Establishing a baseline of exposure will be an important factor before reopening tourism, the Lieutenant Governor continued.

Hawai‘i Pacific Health has been testing its employees over the last week, and more than 1,000 antibody tests have already been conducted statewide, most of those for healthcare workers. Green said the results so far point away from the notion that the state has already experienced a high level of COVID-19 exposure.

“So far, the earliest analysis suggests we do not have a significant number of people that were positive in our state,” Green said. “The numbers appear to be very low, well under 1%, and reflect the numbers that have actually tested positive (as a result of the swab test).”

As of Monday, the tests require a $43 out-of-pocket payment. Green said he believes some insurers will decide to cover antibody testing once its availability becomes widespread. He also said the state Department of Health is likely to cover tests, at least for frontline responders like firefighters and nurses.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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