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Josh Bergeron: Personal suspicions proved wrong by COVID-19 test

I’m probably not alone in being somewhat disappointed that my COVID-19 test results came back negative.

On Friday, May 15, I was tested for COVID-19 antibodies at Labcorp, directly across from Rowan Medical Center on Mocksville Avenue. Before having blood drawn, the lady doing so kindly reminded me to put on a mask (even well-intentioned people can forget). The whole ordeal took about 15 minutes.

Within 24 hours, I had the results: “This sample does not contain detectable SARS-CoV-2 IgC antibodies.”

The results noted that the test did not definitely rule out an infection, but it was the closure I needed for my curiosity. Antibodies take at least two weeks after exposure to develop, and it’s been more than two months now.

When I became sick with an unexplained virus, the novel coronavirus had just made its appearance in North Carolina. It was early March and testing requirements were still too stringent for me to qualify, even with symptoms. My doctor asked me questions about traveling to hotspots.

Because my answers were all “no,” I was ruled out for a COVID-19 test. Meanwhile, I tested negative for the flu. And the diagnosis was a virus of some sort. My prescription was rest and fluids.

I would spend the next several days sweating profusely even when I turned the air conditioning temperature down. I developed a cough. Getting out of bed in the morning seemed like a monumental task. So did sitting upright in a desk chair. I remember standing in the hallway of my apartment one morning and feeling exhausted even though I had just slept 10 hours.

My virus came around election time this year and, as any current or former journalist will attest, elections are among the busiest times for local newspapers. I kept my distance from others, staying out of the newsroom while still contributing to the ongoing work.

While I didn’t seriously suspect that I had COVID-19 at the time, it was a lingering thought, as it is for many people. Folks across Rowan County and America are asking themselves, “Was that one unexplained virus I had actually COVID-19?”

When Labcorp in early May announced online that it was making antibody testing available nationwide, it piqued my interest because of the company’s local facility in Salisbury. If it was inexpensive, why not try to sign up and resolve my curiosity?

Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver said I’m likely one of many people who feel that way.

“I think there is a significant interest in the test because people will go into it thinking, ‘I had it’ because they had unexplained symptoms,” she said.

Importantly, the test is not for those who think they currently have COVID-19 or suspect they do because of existing symptoms. There are other places to get tested for that.

Before signing up for a test, I was asked to complete a survey with a serious of questions about my health. A news release says there’s no upfront out-of-pocket costs for the antibody test, but there is a fee of $10 if people sign up online through labcorp.com/antibody-testing. After insurance, my total cost for the test is expected to be $14.

Labcorp didn’t respond by Friday to a series of questions sent Monday, including the cost to people who are uninsured. A news release only says bills for uninsured people will be sent “to the appropriate government program.”

A positive result could mean that, while it would still be important to follow the same health precautions, there may be at least some period where there’s an immunity to being infected again. A negative result means myself and anyone else in the same position can still be infected with COVID-19.

My case is an example of the fact that there are still viruses out there well-worth avoiding through precautions like waiting 6 feet apart from others in public places, wearing a face covering and washing hands with soap and warm water frequently.

If following COVID-19 precautions reduces my changes of catching another illness, I’m in.

Oliver said last week that she knew of several people who had been tested for antibodies but that she did not know of anyone who had tested positive.

Ultimately, antibody testing will provide better data about infection rates because criteria for tests of active infections are still not inclusive of the general public. Oliver, though, says the county now has enough testing sites to serve the public.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of access to testing. It’s about those who fit the criteria,” she said. “I have not heard of anyone coming to the (Health Department) and saying they can’t access testing.”

For more information about COVID-19 antibody testing, visit labcorp.com/antibody-testing or talk to your doctor or health care provider. Visit rowancountync.gov/COVID-19 or call the health department’s coronavirus hotline at 980-432-1800 for other local information.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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