With thanks to advocate and guest blogger, Angie Galatas.
Find Angie’s advocacy profile here: Medical Advocacy Plus, LLC
Antigen, antibody, viral, serology, these are intimidating words that show up in news articles, media, and insurance documents related to COVID-19. The pandemic has led us to become investigators of not only the virus, but the medical terminology associated with it. Many people are suffering from fear, uncertainty, and exhaustion, trying to decode the information, and this is where a patient advocate can be of assistance.
Let’s simplify information about testing and hopefully alleviate some of your confusion.
There are two separate tests for the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
- Diagnostic testing: Also known as Viral/Antigen Test. Its purpose is to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. This test determines if you have an active infection of the COVID-19 virus and consists of a nasal swab. Alternative rapid tests, similar to the flu tests we are familiar with at local clinics and physician offices, are currently under investigation and will hopefully be approved soon.
- Antibody Testing, also known as serological tests, measure the amount of antibodies in the blood to fight the virus. Antibody testing is particularly attractive to determine who has recovered from the virus (with or without symptoms) and developed an immune response. These tests are typically taken from a blood sample and take several days for results. More research on the accuracy of these tests is needed, as some results have come into question.
Answering your questions about these virus tests:
- Which test should I take if I think I have the coronavirus?
You would need a diagnostic test. If you have the symptoms of COVID-19, the CDC has guidance for testing, but the decisions about testing are at the discretion of the state and local health departments and or individual clinicians. If you receive a positive test result, you most likely are infected with the virus, and you should follow the recommendations from your healthcare provider or follow the guidelines issued by the CDC. If you test negative for the virus, you probably don’t have the COVID-19 virus; however, a word of caution: that does not mean you will not get sick, according to the CDC. There is a chance you may have an infection, even with a negative result. This last statement sounds contradictory and confusing; therefore, reaching out to your patient advocate can help explain and sort through some of the literature and scientific studies about negative test results.
- How do I know if I will infect others if I don’t show symptoms?
Is it safe to return to work or go out in the community? The CDC explains in detail the guidance of return to work criteria for health care workers. Guidelines for returning for work can also found at the American Society of Safety Professionals. The antibody testing (known as serology testing), will help identify if you have recovered from the coronavirus with or without symptoms. This test does not necessarily tell you if you are immune to the virus or safe to return to work. The CDC recommends hand washing, wearing face masks and protective equipment, and disinfecting your environment.
- Am I immune to COVID-19, or will I catch it again?
Antibody tests help you know if you have been infected with the virus (with or without symptoms). Antibody testing may ease the concern of returning to the workforce, but there are no guarantees about your immunity. Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus is new, more studies need to be conducted to give you a definite answer to this question. Your patient advocate can help you weed through some of your questions to educate you further on the use of these tests.
- Where can I receive diagnostic testing?
You can check with your doctor, preferred clinic, or state or local health departments. The CDC has also provided information to locate state and local testing sites. The FDA authorized a home collection option through LabCorp testing kits. It requires a doctor’s order and will be available in most states in the coming weeks.
- Who pays for my testing?
Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, (FFCVRA) and CARES Act, to help waive all cost-sharing related to diagnostic testing for COVID-19 for Medicare, private insurance, Medicaid, and the uninsured. It does not include treatment, and there are possible hidden cost or surprise bills.
To learn more about COVID-19 or receive answers for your questions, find a patient advocate who can help you.