Do Antibody Tests for COVID-19 Ensure a Safe Return to Work?

Posted by: Scott Appnel
Date: June 17, 2020

As companies race to do testing, there’s much to keep in mind.

Employers are gearing up to either reopen their businesses or take steps to ensure the safety of their employees who will be working side-by-side once more. This prospect has ignited a focus on antibody testing for COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins the body makes to attack a virus. Their presence can indicate if a person was infected, whether they knew it or not. While this has become a piece of information many employers are anxious to know, the answer may not meet their specific objective.

What we know

Since this coronavirus is novel, research is uncovering new information every day. Some of the issues that are coming to the forefront include:

  • Immunity. Even if a test is positive, having an antibody does not necessarily mean a person is immune to the virus. The level of antibodies need to assure immunization and the length of immunity is unknown at this time.
  • Timing. Antibody tests are best if they are taken a full two weeks after the start of illness. Independent testing shows they are 97-98% accurate after that time. Like any other infection, the body responds to its presence by creating antibodies, but it does need time to develop them and deploy them in significant number.
  • Quality. Not all antibody tests are reliable and accurate, causing both false positives and false negatives. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] is now requiring approval for tests, and has only approved a small number of products.)
  • Peace of mind. Antibody tests may provide some, but experts say this pandemic calls for a comprehensive program of viral testing, strict disinfection practices, and social distancing. Just because a person tests positive for antibodies, it does not mean they should discontinue wearing a mask or follow other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) direction for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Be safe, regardless

The important takeaway is that antibody testing does not indicate if a person HAS COVID-19, it says they HAD it. While we are still learning, doctors are confident that the presence of antibodies makes an individual less likely to contract COVID-19 a second time or spread it to others. However, an individual’s status should NOT be a substitution for PPE, hand sanitizing, social distancing, and the other recommend COVID safety measures.

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