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Antibody testing key to learning virus’ impact

A National Guardsman directs traffic at Carson High School on Tuesday.
Carson City Health and Human Services

Community-based testing continues across Western Nevada as health officials prepare for the next step.

Nevada health officials are conducting around 5,000 nasal swab tests a day, but those tests only determine if someone has coronavirus, not how prevalent it has been during the outbreak.

On Tuesday, 400 residents of the four counties without coronavirus symptoms were tested at Carson High School.

As of Tuesday night, Douglas County had eight active cases and 30 recoveries. The county experienced a brief spike with a half-dozen cases reported June 3-5. The June 5 case was the last one in five days.

Last week, Director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Mark Pandori said Nevada is on track to pass the national rate of 2 percent coronavirus testing a month. However, determining who has had the disease is still a project. Washoe County Health District has been doing random antibody testing.

Pandori said Thursday that antibody testing is critical to determining the real fatality rate of the coronavirus.

“The true value of testing is to look across large populations and determine the impact this has had,” he said. “It’s like having a time machine and looking back, ‘We got hit by something but how bad did it hit us?’”

He said data from antibody tests will improve health officials understanding of how many people actually were infected.

“Then we can get an idea of what the real fatality rate is,” he said.

He said that while antibody testing is of interest to individuals, there’s not a lot they can do with the information.

“It might say you were infected, but it does not say when or where,” he said. “There is no amount of peer-reviewed data that says because you are antibody positive, that you are immune to the disease.”

He said that immunity from other types of coronavirus infections doesn’t last as long as that from other viruses.

Pandori said another issue with the antibody tests available online is that many haven’t proven to be accurate.

“There are hundreds out there on the market, but only 15 authorized by the FDA,” he said. “That means those manufacturers have generated enough data to ascertain the quality of those tests.”

For those who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have questions, call the Quad-County COVID-19 Hotline Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Spanish speakers are available. The phone number is (775) 283-4789.

For updates and more information on COVID-19 visit https://gethealthycarsoncity.org/novel-coronavirus-2019/.