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Why Florida’s governor wants expanded coronavirus antibody testing

Results could provide more insight into spread of COVID-19

ORLANDO, Fla. – Testing has been a big focus of Florida’s coronavirus response and now Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to take those efforts even further by expanding the testing capabilities for COVID-19 antibodies.

If someone has the antibodies, that means they’ve contracted the highly contagious respiratory illness at some point and now could potentially have some immunity.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the test detects the body’s immune response to the infection caused by the virus rather than detecting the virus itself. In the early days of an infection when the body’s immune response is still building, antibodies may not be detected. This limits the test’s effectiveness for diagnosing COVID-19 and why it should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose COVID-19.

This is especially significant considering findings show that people can be positive for COVID-19 while being completely without symptoms, or asymptomatic.

The FDA said that In the future, antibody testing may potentially be used to help determine when an individual is no longer susceptible to infection and can return to work.

Last week, the FDA approved the use of a rapid test developed by Cellex, which delivers results in about 15 to 20 minutes based on a blood sample.

[RELATED: Florida coronavirus cases increase to 13,300 as more testing sites open across the state | Florida governor wants more rapid COVID-19, antibody tests available at hospitals]

However, according to The New York Times, the test doesn’t give details on how well the antibodies are working.

Still, DeSantis said knowing who does and doesn’t have antibodies could help researchers determine exactly how widespread coronavirus is in Florida.

“If it’s really prevalent, then that’s going to really affect kind of how we approach it. If it’s not really prevalent, then again, that would give us some insight into how this virus has actually spread,” DeSantis said.

He said initially, the thought was that people who were in the early stages of infection but were not showing symptoms likely weren’t spreading the virus, but now that ideology is shifting.

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“If you’re not symptomatic but infected, you very well might be able to spread it just like if you were (having) symptoms,” DeSantis said.

Antibody testing could potentially identify those who had mild symptoms or no symptoms even though they contracted COVID-19, according to the governor.

[Timeline: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

The diagnostics could also be important for health care workers and first responders.

“If somebody does have the antibodies, well then that obviously would potentially give them more freedom to be on the front lines,” DeSantis said.

The governor said he’s put in “a big order” of the tests, although it’s unclear when they’ll arrive, and he has a call planned with the manufacturer on Monday.

“Obviously that would be a real positive development if we were able to do (antibody testing)," DeSantis said.

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