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What to Know about COVID-19 Testing: Blood Drives to Offer Antibody Tests

By Harley Nefe

When it comes to COVID-19, there are two different types of test for the virus. 

The first is the viral RNA tests, which were the first type developed for COVID-19 and immediately used by the WHO and CDC to detect the presence of viral genetic material. 

According to the CDC, viral tests identify the virus in samples from an individual’s respiratory system, such as a swab from the inside of their nose. A positive result indicates an active COVID-19 infection; however, the tests do not rule out other bacterial infections or co-infections with other viruses like a cold or flu and can be inaccurate.

The other type of test is called an antibody test, which can identify individuals who have developed an immune response to COVID-19. 

According to the CDC, antibody tests check an individual’s blood by looking for antibodies, which may tell if they had a past infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections and can provide protection against getting that disease again or immunity. Antibody tests can aid in diagnosing symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals when combined with molecular tests and provide other clinical information. They can also identify individuals who have previously been infected with COVID-19 and recovered. Antibodies are also disease specific. For example, measles antibodies will protect someone from getting measles if they are exposed to it again, but it won’t protect that person from getting mumps if they are exposed to mumps.

Decisions about testing are made by state and local health departments or healthcare providers; however, another way to get an antibody test is by donating blood.

According to the American Red Cross, for a limited time, it will test all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies as an additional health service to donors. The American Red Cross hopes testing will provide critical insight into whether donors may have possibly been exposed to the COVID-19, as some carriers can be asymptomatic.

In order to find an American Red Cross donation location, visit the website https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive. Only individuals feeling healthy and well should donate, and appointments are strongly encouraged.

Some blood drives through the American Red Cross that are coming up include:

July 7

Location: St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church

Time: 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

July 9

Location: Watauga County Agricultural Center

Time: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

July 14

Location: Tanger Outlets Shoppes on the Parkway

Time: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

July 20

Location: Wal-Mart 2496 – Watauga Village Shopping Center

Time: 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Another community blood center called The Blood Connection is also offering COVID-19 antibody testing to all donors, at no cost. To find a donation site for The Blood Connection, visit the website https://donate.thebloodconnection.org/donor/schedules/geo.

According to the CDC, except in instances in which viral testing is delayed, antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current COVID-19 infection. An antibody test may not show if a person has a current COVID-19 infection because it can take 1-3 weeks after infection for a body to make antibodies. To see if an individual is currently infected, they need a viral test.