Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, May 5 @ 5:21 p.m. / Emergencies, Health

Think That Flu You Had in February Was COVID-19? A Eureka Clinic Can Test For That

A Eureka-based urgent care clinic offering antibody testing for COVID-19 could be an avenue for Del Norters to find out if their bodies have already fought the virus.

Redwood Urgent Care began offering the test on Friday, said Lynn Szabo, a physician assistant who lives in Crescent City. The clinic ordered roughly 125 tests and had gotten through about 40 as of Saturday, she told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

Redwood Urgent Care received the results for three back, all were negative, Szabo said.

“The results are going to get reported to the Humboldt County Public Health Department and they already know that we might be testing people from Del Norte,” she told the Outpost. “They’re going to separate out the data and share it with Del Norte.”

The test — SARS-CoV-2 IgG — was developed under the brand name Architect, Szabo said. Architect is affiliated with Abbott Laboratories, which is well known for its Pedialite, Similac, Ensure and Glucerna products.

Antibody tests aren’t a diagnostic tool, Szabo said. Unlike the polymerise chain reaction tests administered through nasal swab and available at Sutter Coast Hospital, Humboldt County’s public health department and commercial labs like LabCorps or Quest, the SARS-CoV-2 IgG test is a blood test, she said.

The PCR test will determine if a symptomatic patient is positive for COVID-19 by finding the virus’s genetic material, Del Norte Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt told the Outpost on Monday.
Szabo said the SARS-CoV-2 IgG test will help determine if a patient’s immune system has created antibodies that will respond to the COVID-19 virus.

“IgG is what happens after you’ve been sick and recovered, and that’s how your immune system remembers it,” she said. “This looks for, what we hope, is lasting immunity to the virus.”
The test is 99.4 percent specific to determining if someone has antibodies related to COVID-19, Szabo said.

Though Szabo said the IgG test isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Rehwaldt said it’s on the agency’s Emergency Use Authorization list. This “low-level stamp of approval” is encouraging, he said, though he and other public health providers don’t know how effective it is at distinguishing COVID-19 from other coronaviruses.

Antibody testing, however, can tell public health providers what percentage of a population has been infected with, and recovered from, COVID-19, Rehwaldt said. Public health experts need to be able to answer this question soon, he said, but there also needs to be a true random sample to determine the level of disease activity in the community.

Rehwaldt said he also wants to determine Del Norte County’s foundation for infection and exposure to the virus. The tests aren’t 100 percent effective if the disease activity is low, he said.

“If the disease activity is low the results (will) be all over the map,” he said. “We’re not rushing to do that test, but down the road in the near future we’d like to sample the community and establish a base line between the 5-10 percent we know have been infected and start measuring from that point on, periodically, how much of a change we’re noticing over time.”

Currently PCR testing for COVID-19 is being offered through LabCorps and Quest, commercial labs most local medical providers use, Rehwaldt said. The turnaround time for those tests is 3 to 10 days depending on how busy the commercial labs are, he said.

Sutter Coast Hospital can test for COVID-19, send the samples to a Sutter Health lab and have the results back in about a day, Rehwaldt said. The Public Health Branch can also test and have results back in roughly two days if the samples are sent to Humboldt County’s public laboratory, he said.

Rehwaldt also pointed out that a California Department of Public Health community testing site in Humboldt County is also a resource for Del Norte County. He said he was working with Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich to determine a location that would allow for easy access for residents of both counties.

“The testing is processed through commercial labs so the turnaround is not wonderful,” Rehwaldt said, adding that as more community testing sites come online, he hopes the turnaround time for test results speeds up.

At a Zoom town hall meeting hosted by Crescent City and Del Norte County, Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna said hospital employees are tested if they exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Sutter Coast Hospital is also capable of conducting antibody tests, Hanna said. Those are sent to Quest and has a 48-minute turnaround for those who were potentially infected with COVID-19. He said those tests are limited to inpatients as recommended by their physician.

“There’s a quick turnaround and, by virtue of having a quick answer to whether someone’s COVID positive, it saves a lot of PPE we don’t have to use,” Hanna said.

According to Rehwaldt, however, virologists don’t know how antibodies actually protect a person from becoming re-infected with COVID-19. A patient may have temporary immunity and may deal with exposure to the virus better a second time, but they could still feel sick, he said.

“Immunity doesn’t prevent you from getting the infection again, it prepares you to fight it off quickly next time,” Rehwaldt said. “If you get a vaccine, you can fight the flu off quickly. A lot of symptoms never show up or, if they do, they only last a day or two. That’s an immune reaction. usually next time you get exposed, the immune system kicks in, fights it off quickly, you get better quickly and it’s not a big deal.”

Public health experts hope to reach that level, either through herd immunity or the development of a vaccine, Rehwaldt said.

Three Del Norte residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have since recovered, according to the Public Health Branch. Public health providers have administered 401 tests as of 5:07 p.m. Tuesday. The results for 14 cases are still pending and 384 have returned negative.

Szabo, whose career includes working with AIDS patients in San Francisco’s Castro District in addition to stints at Open Door Clinic and Planned Parenthood, said exciting things are happening in medicine because of COVID-19. She compared it to the days of learning what HIV was and determining which experimental therapies would effectively treat it.

“The virus genome was constructed within three weeks of first recognizing it in China,” Szabo said, referring to COVID-19. “If you understand the genome, you understand how the virus replicates in the cell and you can design drugs to block it here, block it there. If you can’t shut it down with one drug, you weaken it with a bunch of drugs. That’s based on HIV medicine.”

According to Szabo, Del Norte residents who want to get an antibody test at Redwood Urgent Care can call (707) 298-2011. The clinic has been busy, she said, urging people to call back if they don’t get through the first time.

The clinic’s lab is open from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, though Szabo said Del Norters should make an appointment.



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