Why Virginia will no longer include antibody results in COVID-19 test totals

Posted at 6:34 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 18:40:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health has been boosting their testing numbers by combining two types of tests that many health experts said paints an inaccurate picture of testing in the state.

The two types of tests are a diagnostic test and an antibody test.

Diagnostic tests are the ones that tell you if you're currently sick with COVID-19, and VDH has only put positive diagnostic tests into the positive case count.

Antibody tests tell you if you may have had COVID-19 in the past.

However, health experts said including antibody testing numbers in total tests does not provide an accurate snapshot of the current COVID-19 situation in the state.

Essentially, including the antibody tests pump up the total test numbers, while the confirmed case numbers are only from the diagnostic tests, which could cause the percentage of positive cases to look lower than they actually are.

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Dr. Avula on including antibody testing in state COVID-19 totals: 'I think it's reasonable'

The head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments, Dr. Danny Avula, defended the decision.

"What I last heard from our epidemiologist is that we are including antibody testing for only antibody tests that have received FDA authorization, which is a pretty legitimate way to to make that decision," Avula said. "And then, so that would, that's the denominator side, the total number of tests that are offered. On the numerator side, we are considering if you tested positive for an antibody test, and then you have clinical symptoms that would put you into the category of a probable case, we're including those those cases as probable cases. So testing positive for antibodies and having clinical symptoms would would be a probable case. I think that's a really reasonable way to look at the data and to to include people who might actually have this."

RELATED: 5 new COVID-19 outbreaks reported in Virginia Thursday

After receiving questions about this very issue from local reporters, the VDH separated the antibody tests out from the total number of tests on Thursday, and Governor Ralph Northam tweeted that he directed them to do so.

Northam's Chief of Staff Clark Mercer virgorusly defended the decision not to separate them on Monday.

VDH said antibody tests make up less than 9 percent of overall tests, and when they were removed from overall tests there was no difference in overall trends.

They said the numbers still show a consistent downward trend in the percent positive tests.

Governor Northam has said he is looking for a 14 day downward trend in the percentage of tests that are positive to feel confident with reopening.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.