New COVID-19 antibody testing in Winona gives health officials a better picture of the spread

WINONA, Minn. (WKBT)– Winona Health is learning more about the spread of the coronavirus in the community through new antibody testing. It has conducted about 1,000 tests this week and has already found about 70 patients with antibodies, according to the health care provider.

Sharon Reister doesn’t think she’s had the virus.

“But, there are many asymptomatic people out there and so that’s what I’m interested in knowing is maybe I have had it without any symptoms,” said Reister, who went to Winona Health to get tested.

As a nurse, she’s been especially curious. That’s why she’s getting two different tests– one to show if she’s currently sick and another to see if she has already been exposed to COVID-19.

“I think for safety purposes, I’d like to know if I have that antibody and can prepare for what’s to come yet to our clinic setting,” Reister said.

Winona Health said businesses, long-term care facilities and other community members have been asking for the testing.

“Many people think that they potentially have had it but they just don’t know,” said Sara Gabrick, COO/CNO of Winona Health.

Since starting the test earlier this week, they’ve had about 100 patients per day coming in to get that answer.

“We were not expecting that big of a number. However, we have adjusted our processes to accommodate that,” Gabrick said.

They’re specifically looking for an IgG antibody– which typically shows up about 14 days after the initial infection as the disease is clearing.

“There’s a lot of research that’s being done right now to determine how do long these antibodies remain in the system and to what degree do they confer resistance or immunity,” said Al Beguin, chief of medical staff for Winona Health.

He warns for those who do test positive, it suggests that you may have some resistance in the future. But it does not guarantee immunity.

“Just like a flu shot causes you to get antibodies to the flu, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get the flu,” Beguin said.

The test results also give medical staff and leaders a picture of the prevalence of the spread, if we are nearing herd immunity or if there’s already been a peak in cases.

“If we don’t see a lot of antibodies it means that we have [the] potential to see a big spike. So it allows us to plan and prepare a lot better.”

Initial tests indicate the prevalence in the community is relatively low, which may mean that there may be a surge in cases coming. But further testing could help them know more.

Anyone who wants to be tested for antibodies can go to the Winona Health Clinic from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They’re also testing people from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

They ask that you wear a mask if you come in. You will be screened for signs of current illness.

The cost will be billed to insurance and Winona Health is still looking at what will be covered.  Results will be released to patients within three days.