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Governor’s Advisory Council backs off plans for widespread antibody testing of recovered coronavirus patients

Coronavirus

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — On Thursday, the Governor’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group issued a list of requirements that need to be met in order to eventually reopen the state.

Nowhere in the requirements does the state mention the antibody testing it had previously suggested would be a cornerstone in getting people back to work.

The testing, which proponents say would identify people who have recovered from COVID-19 and may now be immune, has not been extensively tested and research has yet to yield any guarantees regarding immunity or reinfection rates.

Major healthcare systems, as well as some businesses in the state, have already begun testing, though they urge caution in deciphering the results before all the data has been thoroughly vetted.

“We are one of the first companies to do broad-based antibody testing on our workforce,” said Dr. David Brady, Chief Medical Officer of Designs for Health, a dietary supplement company with offices in Suffield.

DFH tested its employees at that facility and at another location in Florida Thursday morning. The company is still open as an essential business.

“How much that immunity is, how long it will last, these are things we’re still trying to figure out right now,” said Brady.

To date, the FDA has only authorized a handful of COVID-19 antibody tests, but relaxed rules during the pandemic allow other companies to distribute their own, and dozens are rushing to develop tests.

Locally, Stamford-based Sema4 already has a COVID diagnostic rapid test. It is now researching an antibody one as well. “These tests are up and coming. These are a very breakthrough.”

Hartford HealthCare announced Thursday it’s now conducting 200 antibody tests per day for its employees across the state, with priority for front-line hospital workers and first responders.

Yale New Haven Health has also announced that it, too, is testing workers and patients as it researches for possible immunity.  The eventual goal, “Put the workforce back to work,” said Hartford Hospital President Bimal Patel.

Local officials, contending with swaths of their emergency crews out sick or quarantined, have already begun asking for the tests as soon as possible.

In Bridgeport, where there’s been a recent surge in COVID cases, Mayor Joe Ganim has 33 police officers and firefighters off the street. He’s asking for antibody testing, as well as the 15-minute rapid diagnostic tests to show who is positive and who is negative.

“As we talk about testing and reintegrating down the line, this stuff is going to be critical for all of us. For all of us as a society as we try and pivot past this health pandemic,” said Mayor Ganim.

Hartford HealthCare says research during the next 10 days will be key.

Meanwhile, Brady says antibody testing gives his workers peace of mind, but that’s all for now.

“We are still telling them that they need to follow all public health guidelines, social distancing, gloves, masks in the office, so all the same things but at least they have some level of comfort with that.”

The Governor’s Advisory Council says it will currently focus on expanding the standard diagnostic testing for patients as it focuses on reopening the state.

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