As New York State prepares to reopen, you’ve heard many times that testing is key to moving forward safely. But those references to COVID-19 tests can be rather confusing, considering there are two kinds available, and what they have in common—both types must be ordered by your provider or your county health department—is outweighed by what makes them different.
Viral testing, often referred to as “diagnostic testing,” focuses on identifying infection in the moment. Like a flu test, or a strep test, you’re trying to find out if you currently have the virus and may be contagious. The diagnostic test is non-invasive, and rather quick. Using a swab that looks like an extra-long Q-tip, a healthcare worker would collect a sample from deep inside the nose, and send the sample to a lab for testing. Results take anywhere from 24-72 hours, depending on capacity.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently updated their list of coronavirus symptoms, and New York State’s Department of Health has an additional list of important criteria you have to meet to qualify for a diagnostic swab. Call your physician if you’re experiencing any symptoms, or have been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. A healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and provide you with further direction.
On the other hand, antibody testing checks for specific proteins that help to fight off infection. The only way you would have those proteins is if you had COVID-19 and your immune system successfully fought the virus. In this case, a healthcare professional would collect a tube of blood from your arm, and you would receive results within 24-48 hours.
Antibodies develop in your blood approximately 1 to 3 weeks after your initial infection. Current antibody tests can have false positives (when the results say you do have the antibodies when you don’t), and false negatives (when the results say you don’t have the antibodies when you do). That means a certain percentage of test results will be inaccurate. Talk with your provider about your health history, concerns, and symptoms to help reduce inaccurate results. Antibody testing may not be suited for everyone.
And that’s another thing: One of the major misconceptions surrounding antibody testing is the promise of immunity if you test positive. There’s a lot about COVID-19 we don’t know yet, so it’s way too early to state unequivocally that having antibodies will protect you from getting the virus again. The biggest risk with false positives and negatives is a misleading sense of security. Everyone has to remain vigilant and practice social distancing and other basic preventative measures no matter what your antibody test results are.
Saratoga Hospital has established a separate lab specimen collection site for approved diagnostic swab testing. You must have a scheduled appointment. There is no walk-in service. Additionally, if you are a patient of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, your physician may order antibody testing if you’ve had an illness consistent with COVID-19 since February 1, 2020. Antibody tests can be conducted at any Saratoga Hospital laboratory sites. Please contact your provider for more information.
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