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Dozens of Long Island labs, walk-in clinics offering antibody tests

CityMD Urgent Care says it is also offering

CityMD Urgent Care says it is also offering antibody tests for those who tested positive for COVID-19. Credit: Johnny Milano

Dozens of Long Island labs and walk-in clinics recently began offering antibody tests to determine if a person has been exposed to the coronavirus, and the companies said the initial response has been considerable.

The antibody testing has been eagerly anticipated by health officials hoping to learn more about the spread of COVID-19, as well as employers and workers who hope it will provide immunity to the coronavirus and help in the efforts to reopen the economy.

In the past week, federal officials opened the door for wide-scale antibody testing by approving serology blood tests methods that can pinpoint if a patient had an immune response to COVID-19 — even if a patient contracted the disease weeks ago and currently doesn’t display any symptoms.

CityMD Urgent Care began offering the tests to the general public in its locations in New York and New Jersey on Tuesday, and performed 9,000 tests just that day, officials said.

Quest Diagnostics, which has facilities on Long Island, began performing the tests for the general public through their physicians April 21, and expanded that to online purchases Tuesday. So far, it has administered 75,000 of the tests nationally, company officials said.

"There have been lines out the door at some of our patient service centers," Quest spokeswoman Kimberly Gorode said Wednesday.

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HealthLabs.com has conducted antibody tests on 588 Long Island patients since Friday, with blood samples taken at 35 affiliated labs and clinics around Nassau and Suffolk counties, CEO Fiyyaz Pirani said. The antibody tests cost $169.

LabCorp officials said they began offering the antibody test on a limited basis in late March, focusing on health care workers. The company since has expanded the service to doctor offices, and LabCorp's service centers, including those in Walgreens locations.

LabCorp spokesman Mike Geller said the company has the capacity to perform more than 50,000 antibody tests a day, and expects to expand that to 200,000 tests by mid-May.

CityMD Urgent Care said people should get tested at least 14 days after they've recovered, and “if you believe you have come into contact with someone who had the COVID-19 virus.” CityMD lists some 30 facilities on Long Island.

Quest Diagnostics said health providers can request the tests online and patients learn the results within a day. "With the introduction of this test and service, Quest is making it easy for people to access quality testing for antibodies to the virus," Dr. Jay Wohlgemuth, the company's senior vice president and chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Northwell Health, New York State’s largest health care provider, said it soon will offer antibody testing to the public as well.

“We are currently doing antibody testing for our own employees only,” system spokesman Terry Lynam said. “We expect to be able to expand antibody testing to 10,000/day within the next week or so.”

Antibody testing for COVID-19 is different from the molecular screening tests that have been used widely to identify those currently infected with the virus. The antibody tests newly authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can determine who in the past may have had the disease and developed what is believed to be an immunity from further infection, allowing them to return to work.

FDA officials also said these antibody test results also can allow patients recovered from the disease “to donate a part of their blood called convalescent plasma, which may serve as a possible treatment for those who are seriously ill.”

Pirani said his Houston, Texas-based HealthLabs.com has a group of doctors who first confer with patients who believe they may have the disease and prescribe the lab tests at local Long Island clinics near a patient’s home. Of the 588 patients from Long Island given the antibody test in the past few days, 132 have tested positive for the disease.

“A lot of people say they felt ill in January and early February but tested negative for influenza” and now are learning they had the coronavirus instead, Pirani said. His firm promises results generally within 24 hours “of the blood draw,” and those who test positive usually consult their own local doctors.

There remains considerable debate about antibody testing as a way of assuring immunity from further infection. On Friday, the World Health Organization warned there is “currently no evidence” that people who recovered from the disease are protected from getting it again.

Antibody testing conducted by New York State officials indicates that 15% of New Yorkers have been exposed to the virus, prompting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week to authorize pharmacies around the state to also conduct antibody testing, which is expected to start soon.

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