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Crush the Curve Idaho announces first wave of coronavirus antibody test results

Researchers are still trying to determine whether a positive antibody result means the patient is now immune to COVID-19.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — On Wednesday, Crush the Curve Idaho announced results for its first 48 hours of antibody and COVID-19 testing in the Treasure Valley.

A testing site is currently set up at Meridian Crossing. There, health professionals can administer a nose swab test to see if people have COVID-19. Those who believe they're already had the virus can get a small blood draw test to check for antibodies.

In its first 48 hours of testing, Crush the Curve tested 1,946 patients for antibodies. 34 patients, or 1.75%, of those tests came back positive. 

Crush the Curve also tested 1,598 patients for the novel coronavirus. Of those, 49 patients, or 3.1%, came back positive. 

All antibody tests were run through the University of Washington's virology lab, with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 99.6%.

Tommy Ahlquist, CEO of Saltzer Health and spokesman for Crush the Curve, explained to KTVB in a previous interview what those terms mean. The sensitivity percentage is the confidence that the test will pick up even small traces of the virus. Specificity is the confidence that it can rule out the presence of COVID-19 antibodies. 

RELATED: Idaho experts debate the value of coronavirus antibody testing

Dr. John Kaiser, chief medical officer at Saltzer Health, said right now they aren't sure what a positive result on antibodies means for patients. 

“The answer is we don’t know with 100% certainty," he said. "We don’t know with 100% certainty that it’s protected from re-infection. We also don’t know how long that immunity – if it is present – how long it will last. Those are things we’re going to find out as we go through understanding this disease more.” 

That's why testing like Crush the Curve is doing is beneficial. It offers more data for health professionals to learn more about the disease. 

“The testing I believe is the key to our ability to continue the process of opening up and helping people understand where we’re at," Kaiser said. "I also think that with testing you can convince someone that you know where the disease state is at and you can take all these precautions because we aren’t to a point where we can just let our guard down.”

Health professionals with Crush the Curve say the antibody tests are not meant to give a false sense of security. And no matter people's results, it shouldn't change their behavior and they should continue safe social distancing and sanitization practices. 

Mike Boren with Clearwater Analytics, which is also part of Crush the Curve initiative, said the first wave of results is not a scientific sample. It's mean to be a starting point for data collection about the disease in Idaho. 

These particular results are a small sample of people in the Treasure Valley only and are not an overall representation of the population.

"It's not a perfect, scientific example," Boren said. “But let me be clear - we’re not going for perfection here. We’re going for a better idea than we had and hopefully some good data so we can make better decisions we might not otherwise make without good data.”

Boren said what these results do show so far is that there is less disease in the state than expected. It also shows that social distancing measures are working to slow the spread of the virus to more people. 

Kaiser added that the results show Idaho is a long way from developing herd immunity to COVID-19.

Because the goal of the testing is to get better data about where the level of disease is in the state, Kaiser said results can also help Idahoans prepare to go back to work - and "do it wisely."

Crush the Curve plans to test 18,000 more Idahoans for antibodies by May 1. To do that, more testing sites will be set up statewide, including in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Lewiston, Post Falls and Blaine County. 

In some areas like Blaine County, Boren said the goal is to test a large majority of the population.

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