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Avera Marshall to offer COVID-19 antibody tests

MARSHALL — There was a lot of focus on COVID-19 testing in the Marshall area last week. Now, the Avera health system says it is also offering a different kind of test — a blood test that may be able to find whether a person has had COVID-19 and developed antibodies.

Antibody testing will be available through Avera Quicklab locations and Avera clinics, including at Avera Marshall, Avera spokespeople said Tuesday.

“Antibody tests — also known as IgG or serology tests — may detect whether someone has been exposed to COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins in the blood that the body’s immune system uses to fight viruses and bacteria,” said David Basel, a physician and vice president of Avera Medical Group Clinical Quality.

The antibody tests are not the same thing as the tests that help determine whether a person has an active COVID-19 infection, Basel said.

“For example, if you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, this is not the appropriate test to see if you have the virus. This test will not show if someone currently has COVID-19,” he said.

Instead, antibodies in a person’s blood could mean that the person had COVID-19 and has already recovered, or that they had been exposed to coronavirus in the past but never developed symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says antibody tests are most useful in watching the spread of COVID-19, as these tests can show how many people in a given group or area might have been infected. But the CDC does not recommend that antibody tests be used in making health care decisions.

Avera said that the antibody tests are also direct-to-consumer, and are not covered by health insurance. The tests are reimbursable through flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. There is an $80 cost for the tests, which Avera said is payable with a credit or debit card.

At Avera Marshall, people can receive the antibody test by going to the Charles Street entrance on the lower level of the Bruce Street campus. Hours for testing are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Basel said the antibody tests have three possible results. A “reactive,” or positive result suggests the person might have been exposed to COVID-19 and developed an immune response. A “non-reactive,” or negative result shows no exposure. An “equivocal” test result shows a small amount of antibodies, but not enough for a positive result.

“Before having this test, people should understand that a ‘reactive’ or positive result does not mean a person definitely has immunity to COVID-19 and will not become ill with the virus,” Basel said.

“If you are having possible symptoms of COVID-19, we do not recommend this test. Instead, it’s important to call 1-877-AT-AVERA or your local clinic for directions on what to do.”

Symptoms include fever over 100 degrees, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea or vomiting, loss of sense of taste or smell, and sore throat.

“Regardless of results, we advise people to continue to protect themselves and others. Wear a mask when out in public, maintain a 6-foot distance from others in public, avoid crowds, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands often,” Basel said.

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