The future of COVID-19 testing
SAINT JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.-- Medical experts say testing is the key to getting back to normal in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we continue to see positive cases rising throughout the country and right here at home, it is important to also realize that virus testing is also ramping up and evolving everyday allowing for a greater understanding and containment of the virus.
“There are basically three categories of tests. PCR, Antigen AMD antibody," said the Saint Joseph County Deputy Health officer, Dr. Mark Fox.
PCR tests represent the bulk of current testing and what you will typically see and experience.
“It’s amplifying pieces of the virus, confirming the presence of the virus," said Dr. Fox.
Through a simple nose or throat swab with a few hour or day process time before a diagnosis can be given.
A second form of testing is the rapid antigen test done through a blood draw.
It is basically deemed the quickest way to see if you have or ever had the virus.
“That would be more Ike what you see for the flu or strep throat when you go in and 15 minutes later you have an answer,” said Dr. Fox.
But antigen testing is not currently seen as 100% reliable.
"Some of the tests have been challenged for their reliability and they are deemed inconclusive and people have to go get the PCR test anyway," said Dr. Fox.
Finally there is the last category, the antibody test.
“It’s not as good for saying yes you have the virus now but at some point in a period prior to this you have been exposed to it," said Dr. Fox. "So it’s not good for diagnosis really.”
However, this test can offer a road map for figuring out where and how you came in contact with the virus and potentially be a place to help others with severe cases heal through someones antibody filled plasma.
“But at this point it’s really satisfying curiosity more than providing any assurance that you have immunity for some period of time," said Dr. Fox. "We presume the presence of antibodies confers some immunity but we don’t know how protective it is or how long that protection will last.”
Ultimately though there is a positive here as we are seeing the testing world evolving relating to COVID-19 tests.
“Essentially all of the testing that’s being done has been approved under a Emergency Use authorization through the FDA. So that allows the rapid development and deployment of tests. But the testing environment is changing dramatically," said Dr. Fox.
This evolution means in a few months we will be seeing steps toward a better quality test, higher capacity to test individuals, as well as a quicker turn around time in getting information back.
You can compare this to the evolution of flu or strep throat testing, a platform doctors are hoping to mimic to make situations like testing at schools easier.
"So when college students come back we want to test them, get a result in 15 minutes and put them in isolation before the start infecting everyone in the dorm. So we’d like it to get as rapid and as reliable as what we have for strep throat and for the flu," said Dr. Fox.
The main takeaway for those looking to or who have already been tested is to listen to your health care professional and the test itself.
If you do receive a positive diagnosis, be sure to take your self out of circulation and quarantine for the recommended amount of time: either 14 days or until you have a consecutive amount of symptom free days as determined by your doctor.
Testing is there to ultimately protect those who have not contracted the virus yet and following guidelines will allow for the medical sphere to catch up and bring society back to some sort of normalcy once people are truly heeding how easily this virus is transmitted.