At ARCpoint Labs of Washington DC, co-owner Kirk Kirkov has been getting lots of questions. He's one of the first in the D.C. area to offer coronavirus antibody testing to the general public. His lab just began offering the tests this week and has already tested about 80 people.
"There's a lot of demand. There's a lot of people; it's understandable," Kirkov said.
Mayors and governors across the country say testing is key to reopening businesses — and not just testing of patients who are currently sick.
There's a huge push to test people who were previously sick but never got tested for COVID-19, or who may have been exposed and did not develop symptoms, to see if their blood contains coronavirus antibodies.
"It’s very simply a regular blood draw," said Kirkov. "The magic takes place in the high complexity lab that then processes the blood."
Anyone is eligible, as long as you've been symptom-free for at least seven days. Kirkov is requiring clients to schedule an appointment and is not accepting walk-ins.
Kirkov allowed a News4 camera to observe as a vial of his own blood was drawn for the antibody test. He said he never felt sick but was curious whether he'd been exposed to COVID-19 given his daily interaction with clients at work. Scientists believe many people have had the virus without developing respiratory symptoms.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
"That is why there's such a push to actually have broad testing out there to understand the true prevalence of this condition amongst a whole population," Kirkov said.
The test looks for two antibodies: Immunoglobulin G (IgG) and Immunoglobulin M (IgM).
If you're positive for both antibodies, your infection was likely more recent.
If you're negative for IgG and positive for IgM, you're likely at the beginning of your infection and could still be carrying the virus. In that case, you should isolate to protect others.
The best result you can get is positive for IgG and negative for IgM. That means the infection has fully passed and you likely have functional immunity.
"The evidence is there to say that if you have an antibody, your chances of not developing the condition again are better but, ya know, not guaranteed," Kirkov said.
His consent forms clearly warn clients of that and tell them that their results may be given to the Department of Health or Center for Disease Control and Prevention for their statistical and demographic value.
They could also be valuable in helping our community to reopen.
"The presence of those antibodies is a decent indicator to believe that that person will not be symptomatic and or risk contaminating others," Kirkov said.
"It's good information to have to make informed decisions."
He says he wouldn't be surprised if some employers eventually require antibody tests to protect the workplace, like they do with drug tests. But with the current $225 cost, that is unlikely for now.
The CARES Act requires insurance companies to cover the cost of antibody testing, but Kirkov's lab, for example, does not accept insurance. So those who want to get tested should make sure they ask those questions before scheduling an appointment.
Kirkov was planning to offer the cheaper finger-stick tests, which provide results within minutes, but he scrapped those amid questions about their reliability.
"Given that we are providing this test to the public at large, I feel responsible as to what I can stand behind," Kirkov said. "So, I'm much, much more comfortable with the lab tests at this point."
Kirkov worries the tests could provide a false sense of security and warns clients that even if they do test positive for the coronavirus antibodies, that is not a license to let their guard down. Scientists are still trying to determine whether a patient can become infected for a second time.