I Got the Antibody Test for COVID-19 and Here’s Exactly What It Was Like. It’s Safe!
I had to know: Did I have COVID-19? Way back in February I was sitting on a flight to Vail when an elderly woman directly behind me coughed for hours. She coughed so hard and so loudly and so "wet" sounding that even then, I was sure she had COVID-19 and was spreading her virus-filled particle bubbles all over me. I was not particularly empathetic in that moment and felt guilty about wishing she would just go to sleep. Finally, she did and I remember thinking: That's it. I was exposed. I went skiing, since this was long before people were shutting down mountains or wearing masks or even social isolating, and we got home and I felt like crap.
I was weak, tired, and dragged myself to the gym where I usually crush my spin class (I love biking) and this time could barely get my feet around the pedals with any resistance. The spin instructor walked over to check if I was working hard (he's a toughie) and I held my hand in front of the readout numbers so he couldn't see how pathetic I was feeling. This went on day after day. I had no other symptoms than being weak and tired. I told myself "this is because you were at altitude, or skied hard or had to move apartments right before the trip." I gave myself excuses. But now, looking back, I think it could have been COVID-19. So I wanted to take the test.
My husband and I drove to CityMD and arrived there as it opened at 9 a.m. Every CityMD in the New York Tri-State area is offering the antibody test and if you are uninsured it is free. We were the only two people in the place. It is in a mall next to Target. The parking lot of Target was full, with people buying whatever they need on a random Wednesday in Sayville Long Island. The CItyMD professional team of doctors and health care workers were masked, wore gowns, and were waiting as if for their next surgical patients, and yet, it was just James and me. The few chairs of the waiting area were placed at intervals of 6 feet apart and facing back and front, like some grownup game of musical chairs. We sat across the room from each other, like 30 feet apart, though we share the same bed. He didn't want to "get too close to me." (Lol.)
The countertop where you check-in also had chairs lined up in front so you have to reach several feet to get your paperwork. But the genius part is that you check-in by iPad stations and each allows you to place your driver's license and your insurance card into a little tray to get scanned without touching another human, or anyone needing to handle it, and nothing you own comes into contact with another living being. It's so clean that I never felt the worry that I was picking up the virus while getting tested for it!
What is the Actual Test Like? It's a Prick and a Blood Test
I was ushered into the exam room and asked to roll up my sleeve. The nice male medical technician asked for my height and weight and took my blood pressure. Then his associate, a female MD came in and she too was covered with face shield, gown, gloves, and scrubs. She added a compression hose to my upper arm, tapped my vein and gently pricked it, filled one small tube of dark red blood and that was it. She put blue soft stretchy tape all around my arm, to keep it from bleeding, I lowered my sleeve and walked out.
In two or three days I will know whether I did indeed have COVID-19 and was basically asymptomatic. (For me being weak is a symptom something is amiss. I generally don't get sick -- knock on wood! I hate to tempt fate writing that sentence but most of the time my worse issue is some allergy response to running in Central Park when the trees are shedding their pollen.) I have been eating a plant-based diet for a year and my fitness level has never been better. Since going plant-based, my numbers on the spin bike are at least 20 percent higher than before, and I attribute this to "plant power." Athletes are discovering that plant protein is cleaner on their bodies than animal products, and eating plant-based allows them to recover faster and train at higher levels than when they ate meat. A new study just came out that vegan athletes outperform meat-eaters in endurance and strength tests. So for me, this was truly a sign something was wrong.
The technician --also an athlete, also a cyclist and also trying to be fit now -- heard my story of being "weak at the gym" and said that could definitely have been due to having COVID-19. Everyone has different stories, symptoms, and levels of sickness. Whether there are several "strains" of the virus going around, or that each individual's immune system reacts in different ways is yet to be seen.
How Accurate Are the Results of Your COVID-19 Antibody Test?
As for accuracy levels, the current test is between 93 percent and 96 percent accurate, according to the FDA. In terms of false negatives and false positives, they call a false negative (not picking up virus antibodies that are in your system) a sensitivity level and a false positive (finding antibodies that are not for this virus) a specificity issue -- because it can't be sure that the antibodies are for this specific coronavirus.
The first COVID-19 serology test granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA—Cellex’s lateral flow rapid test, using drops of blood and a test strip similar to a pregnancy test—showed a combined sensitivity of 93.8% and a specificity of 96.0% when searching for two different antibodies linked to the coronavirus.
Other products use different testing technologies and examine larger blood samples—such as the high-throughput ELISA tests developed by Abbott, Roche, and other companies.
Roche’s recently authorized Elecsys test showed 100% sensitivity and 99.8% specificity across multiple antibody types, with a positive predictive value of 96.5% and a negative predictive value of 100% at 5% prevalence.
The test I took was Abbott’s Architect test for IgG antibodies which shows a sensitivity of 100%, specificity of 99.6%, and has positive and negative predictive values of 92.9% and 100%, respectively. The lab where my test is sent in New York State uses this test that was authorized for Emergency Testing because of the high number of cases in the New York area. Ask which test your testing center uses to determine how accurate your results will be.
Meanwhile, a separate, two-step ELISA test developed by clinical laboratories at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York showed a sensitivity and specificity of 92.5% and 100%, resulting in positive and negative predictive values of 100% and 99.6%.
When I dook a pregnancy test, all those years ago, I had lower odds of it being accurate. Then the doctor told me it's impossible to get a false negative but if you take it too soon you might not have enough hormone to pick up the pregnancy. In this case the false positive could be that the test finds antibodies to something else you had like SARS or MERZ that is a different Coronavirus. Since I never had those I figure if I am positive, it's a direct hit. But I will let the doctors tell me more when I get my results which will be within 72 hours.
The full list of test results from all 12 FDA-authorized tests is available here.
What Should You do With the Results of Your COVID-19 Antibody Test?
Strangely I hope I did have it. I hope that these antibodies might give me some measure of protection against getting it again or spreading it to anyone. I will have to wait and see. If I had it two months ago I am not likely to hurt anyone by breathing on them now. But there are still so many questions and we have to all be patient and listen to the medical professionals.
Until I get my test I will continue to exercise caution: No social mingling. Washing hands, eating fruits and vegetables that are high in immune-boosting foods. For the top 13 Immune boosting foods to add to your plate, check out this story. Until then stay safe and go get your test. It's easy, it's free (for those without coverage) and it's safe. And the health care workers are waiting for you. With empty exam rooms and plenty of precautions.