Antibody tests that can indicate whether patients have recently had the COVID-19 virus are now being rolled out by the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic announced on Monday that its new serology test that can identify the immune response to the virus is now available to more healthcare organizations, and it's working with state and federal officials to ensure it can be made available to frontline staff such as hospital and clinic workers.
Initially, it will be able to conduct 8,000 tests per day at lab locations across its extensive system, but "capacity will be ramped up as quickly as possible," with testing carried out 24 hours a day.
But the Mayo has cautioned that the results of the serology test aren't definitive, saying the test detects antibodies to the virus, but doesn't diagnose recent or active infection, and "cannot pinpoint the date of the exposure."
“A positive serology result suggests the patient is less likely to get infected or re-infected compared with individuals who do not have any antibodies in their blood," said Elitza Theel, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory.
"However, we are continuing to learn about the level and duration of protective immunity, and we can’t definitively say how long protective immunity may last."
So far the Mayo has conducted 86 tests in patients and detected antibodies in 12 of them, which suggests they've previously recovered from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reports that the University of Minnesota's antibody test will be launched this week at M Health Fairview's Bethesda Hospital, which is a designated coronavirus-only hospital.
Doctors, nurses and other staff members will be prioritized for the tests, with the newspaper noting the U has the capacity to make at least 100,000 tests.
On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz cited serology testing as a crucial part of the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He wants the state to reach a point where it can carry out 40,000 tests a week – comprising a mixture of coronavirus diagnostic tests and the antibody tests – before he is comfortable lifting the Stay at Home orders he has in place to enforce social distancing.
He says the state needs a robust "test, trace, isolate" process in place to identify those with coronavirus and those they've been in contact with, and isolate them so it can't spread.
It's this process that has been used to successful effect in countries that have managed to limit the impact of the virus, such as South Korea.