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State recommending limited use of antibody testing while ramping up coronavirus testing capacity

Dr. Jim Souza, co-chair of the state's testing task force, says antibody testing is a tool to use in the future.

BOISE, Idaho — In a news conference on Friday, Gov. Brad Little and his testing task force announced the state is working to increase testing. The testing that will increase are molecular or PCR tests. These determine whether someone is currently sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

However, the state is envisioning a more limited role for antibody testing. Antibody testing is a blood test that can show if you've had the coronavirus and had an immune response to it.

The announcement comes as a ranking done by the Kaiser Family Foundation ranks Idaho in last place out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. when it comes to testing per capita.

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State officials and Dr. Jim Souza, the chief medical officer for the St. Luke’s Healthcare System and co-chair of the state’s testing task force said it isn't telling the whole story though.

“There are some states that have been reporting both the molecular or PCR test results and antibody test results together, creating the appearance of increased testing capacity,” he said.

Idaho isn't reporting antibody test results. Souza said there's another reason Idaho ranked low.

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“Idaho's rural nature is part also of the reason that we perhaps haven't had as many tests when we were in the demand-based phase of testing,” he said.

When Souza says demand driven, he means the state was testing people when there was an immediate demand to slow the spread. The state was limiting testing people who were sick and showing symptoms.

“In our own analysis here in the state of Idaho, the place we've got a need is with the molecular test or PCR test, it’s not antibody testing,” he said.

This is why the state is now moving to ramp up the molecular testing capacity. This doesn't mean there isn't a use for antibody testing.

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According to Souza, it’s more of an epidemiological tool to use in the future, just not the best tool to use for Idaho right now.

“Antibody testing is like driving looking in the rear-view mirror, antibody testing tells you about stuff that happened weeks ago,” Souza said. “Molecular testing is in the moment and forward looking.”

The state is recommending a limited use of antibody testing right now. This is because the presence of antibodies tells them someone had the virus, but it doesn't mean that person is immune to the disease going forward.

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