What are the Pros and Cons for Testing for COVID-19

Health & Wellness  |  May 21, 2020

covid-19 testing

In the current, ever-changing COVID-19 landscape, conversations around testing are constantly evolving. Medical professionals and researchers are learning more every day and are adjusting protocol accordingly. With that said, there are still questions and gray areas. What are the different types of tests, how often should we test and should entire communities be tested?

According to Pat McBride, Vice President of Clinical and Compliance for Christian Living Communities and Cappella Living Solutions, there are currently two types of testing. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test identifies, ideally, if a person has COVID-19 on the day the person is tested. By swabbing the upper respiratory tract, this test identifies those who need to be isolated or quarantined, and will help health providers protect non-infected individuals and healthcare workers. McBride notes that while the PCR test is well established, it has been found to be 30% unreliable, delivering a false negative or false positive. The test produces a “snapshot” of a person’s virus status at that time depending on exposure to and the stage of the disease.

Dr. Larry Plunkett, MD, Christian Living Communities Medical Director is currently not supporting mass testing, such as testing whole communities, but does support in specific situations “targeted” or point-prevalence testing of neighborhoods or portions of a community in part to identify asymptomatic individuals who may be shedding active COVID-19 virus. Dr. Plunkett points out that the availability and speed of testing must be taken into consideration before deciding to do targeted and mass testing and the supply of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE must be in place prior to starting a testing phase.

Antibody tests determine if an individual has developed antibodies to COVID-19. This test uses a blood sample to see if an immune response has developed, indicating exposure to the virus. In McBride’s findings, this test is limited as we don’t know what level of antibody presence indicates immunity. Additionally, there are multiple virus sub-types and it’s not known whether the presence of an antibody would indicate long or short-term immunity.

Dr. Gregory Gahm, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine for the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, believes that antibody testing is not helpful now because we don’t know how to interpret the readings. Currently, it’s difficult to determine if someone is actually immune and for how long, as the virus is evolving. Dr. Gahm now also supports targeted testing with all of the considerations pointed out by Dr. Plunkett, and believes all residents and team members must be tested at the same time in order to get an accurate “snapshot” in time.

Many experts agree that, until there is a reliable antibody test, active disease testing should be the gauge for stopping the spread of the virus in senior living communities. In the future, however, antibody testing may be an important tool in response to this disease. At Christian Living Communities and Cappella Living Solutions, we have conducted point-prevalence as well as symptomatic PCR testing to gain insight, but the best weapon in the battle against COVID-19 continues to be strong virus identification, isolation and eradication protocols, hand washing, wearing PPE, and meticulous sanitization.

We are thankful for our dedicated and caring professionals who continue to serve on our COVID-19 front lines. There is progress being made and we are celebrating recoveries and other successes. Read more information on Christian Livings Communities Virus Prevention Protocols.

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