RICHMOND (CBS SF) — It’s being touted as the newest weapon in the battle against the deadly coronavirus: an antibody test that promises to tell you if you’ve been infected and developed antibodies.

More than 100 companies are marketing the COVID-19 antibody test kits, but so far only one lab in the Bay Area is offering them, and KPIX 5 found lots of people are signing up.

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ARCpoint Labs of Richmond advertises a coronavirus antibody test that will tell you not only if you’ve been exposed but also if you have protective antibodies, according to its website

Jake Harper came all the way from Sacramento for the test kit.

“My ex- works in healthcare, she’s on the front lines,” said Harper.

He paid $200 to know if he’s among the lucky ones.

“Well just to see if possibly that I have immunity to it,” said Harper.

South Bay resident Dr. Young Li.

“I will not be the source of infection, I want to make sure,” said Li. “According to this company, the email, the sensitivity is about 95%.”

The tests offered at ARCpoint Labs of Richmond are not authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But the government is allowing companies like this to sell tests anyway, without authorization, as long as they include disclaimers that they can have false results.

“It’s the wild, wild west right now,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, Professor Emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “It can’t be used at this point to tell you that you’ve got the get out of the jail free card. That’s not the case.”

Swartzberg says antibody tests hold great promise for the future but are not ready for primetime yet.

“Let’s say the test proves that we are immune. How long will it last? We don’t know that yet. Will it be months? Will it be a few years?” said Swartzberg. “It can be done and it will be done, but right now people are just rushing the test out and they shouldn’t be doing that.”

Swartzberg says small print disclaimers on ARCpoint of Richmond’s website are not enough, because the claims it is making in big print about its antibody test are outright false, such as the claim it can reveal if protective antibodies are present.

“That is an egregious thing to say,” said Swartzberg. “We do not know that the antibodies detected by any test, even the best tests in the world, can tell us that we are protected.”

The risk is that people who think they are immune might take fewer precautions and get sick or unknowingly infect others. That could especially be a risk in the workplace. The website tells employers, “The coronavirus antibody test can help you make informed decisions regarding your staff’s return to work.”

“So there are dangers to doing this besides your pocketbook,” said Swartzberg.

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We wanted to ask the owner of the lab, Timea Majoros, about that. But she declined our repeated requests for an interview, after telling us over the phone her franchise is using the test and marketing material provided by corporate.

In an email to KPIX 5, a spokesperson for ARCpoint corporate told us: “By definition, antibodies are protective. So any test that identifies antibodies would imply at least some level of protection.”

As for the Richmond franchise: “It is up to each franchise owner to decide whether to offer the COVID-19 antibody tests.”

Some customers we talked to told us, despite unanswered questions, they are still happy to have spent the money. “It’s better to do something than to do nothing, since we’re going to be sitting around just kind of waiting, you know,” said Harper.

Others are not so sure. “I think there’s a possibility that it could be wrong,” said Holly Carlin who just got her results back showing negative. But she says she became very sick flying back from Thailand through Hong Kong in January, and a doctor told her it was likely COVID-19. So she’s confused.

“It’s such a back-and-forth, it’s just a swing in all directions,” said Carlin.

Her advice to friends who also thought they got the virus: “I would not recommend going and getting tested. I have told my friends I came back negative, don’t bother!” said Carlin.

Within the last day, two major commercial labs, Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics, have announced the rollout of their antibody tests. So there are going to be a lot more of them being offered very soon.

Complete statement from John Constantine, President & CEO of ARCpoint Franchise Group: 

 The COVID-19 Antibody Test currently being offered at select ARCpoint Labs locations is a blood test that detects whether certain antibodies are present.

Specifically, the two antibodies the test detects are:

    • IgM: an antibody that appears early after an infection
    • IgG: an antibody that appears later and gradually replaces the IgM antibodies

Regardless of the test outcome, clients are encouraged to follow the guidance of the CDC and consult with a licensed healthcare provider for interpretation of their individual tests results.

The COVID-19 Antibody Tests that are currently collected at select ARCpoint Labs locations, and conducted in a high-complex facility, are FDA-compliant.

These tests are allowed under the FDA’s March 16 Policy for Diagnostic Testing of COVID-19.

 

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