I didn’t think it would be this easy.

Last Wednesday morning I started Googling to see where I could get a COVID-19 antibody test in San Francisco. By noon I had an appointment for Thursday at 3:20 p.m. at a location of Carbon Health, a healthcare startup I once read was aiming to become “the Starbucks of healthcare.”

There are two types of COVID-19 tests. If you think you currently have COVID-19, a diagnosis test uses a swab to collects fluid with a nasal or throat swab or from saliva to determine if you currently have the disease. An antibody test uses your blood to determine whether you had COVID-19 in the past and now have antibodies against the virus. The chances of me having had COVID-19 is slim since I'm working from home and adhering to social distancing practices, but as with most people, it's possible since there are many asymptomatic cases. I also was very sick in February with several symptoms of the virus, but I never went to the doctor and it could still have been the bronchitis I thought it was. (The first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington on Jan. 15; the first case in the Bay Area was reported in Santa Clara County on Jan. 31.) I also had been to Asia in early December (though to Thailand and Taiwan, not mainland China). When I showed up Thursday (a few minutes late, whoops), the office was quiet and there was no one sitting in the waiting room. I handed over my insurance card and ID to a masked receptionist and was led immediately into a sterile doctor's office where a medical assistant took my vitals (temperature and blood pressure).
Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

There are two types of COVID-19 tests. If you think you currently have COVID-19, a diagnosis test uses a swab to collects fluid with a nasal or throat swab or from saliva to determine if you currently have the disease. An antibody test uses your blood to determine whether you had COVID-19 in the past and now have antibodies against the virus.

The chances of me having had COVID-19 is slim since I’m working from home and adhering to social distancing practices, but as with most people, it’s possible since there are many asymptomatic cases. I also was very sick in February with several symptoms of the virus, but I never went to the doctor and it could still have been the bronchitis I thought it was. (The first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington on Jan. 15; the first case in the Bay Area was reported in Santa Clara County on Jan. 31.) I also had been to Asia in early December (though to Thailand and Taiwan, not mainland China).

When I showed up Thursday (a few minutes late, whoops), the office was quiet and there was no one sitting in the waiting room. I handed over my insurance card and ID to a masked receptionist and was led immediately into a sterile doctor’s office where a medical assistant took my vitals (temperature and blood pressure).

A physician's assistant came in a few minutes later to ask what my concerns were and which COVID-19 test I was hoping to get. When I said I was there for an antibody test, I saw the slightest flicker of resignation as he launched into a (necessary) spiel about how the test does not mean that I have immunity from the coronavirus. Scientists believe it's possible to get infected twice and even if the antibodies do work, they're not sure for how long someone would be protected. In short, if the test came back positive, I shouldn't loosen up on social distancing. From there, the medical assistant drew a quick vial of blood and let me know it would be sent off to Quest Diagnostics and I should expect my results in three to five days. I asked the medical assistant if the clinic has been busy and she said yes, though it hadn't been overwhelming. Carbon Health also has mobile clinics set up throughout the city and she said she thinks that's helped things stay manageable. She said she thinks as more people realize how easy it is to get tested, especially for the antibody test, things may pick up.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A physician’s assistant came in a few minutes later to ask what my concerns were and which COVID-19 test I was hoping to get. When I said I was there for an antibody test, I saw the slightest flicker of resignation as he launched into a (necessary) spiel about how the test does not mean that I have immunity from the coronavirus. Scientists believe it’s possible to get infected twice and even if the antibodies do work, they’re not sure for how long someone would be protected. In short, if the test came back positive, I shouldn’t loosen up on social distancing.

From there, the medical assistant drew a quick vial of blood and let me know it would be sent off to Quest Diagnostics and I should expect my results in three to five days.

I asked the medical assistant if the clinic has been busy and she said yes, though it hadn’t been overwhelming. Carbon Health also has mobile clinics set up throughout the city and she said she thinks that’s helped things stay manageable. She said she thinks as more people realize how easy it is to get tested, especially for the antibody test, things may pick up.

I was out of there by 3:42 p.m. - since I was about five minutes late, that means I was there just over 15 minutes. Upon leaving, I was encouraged to download the company's app to receive my results in the fastest way. App or not, I received my results just 24 hours later. Negative. As I said before, I didn't expect the results to be positive, but even with the test confirming my hypothesis, it's important to note that according to Carbon Health, the false-negative range from the test is between 3-15%. It's also possible any antibodies in my body that I did have aren't present anymore. According to the CDC, some people may not develop antibodies at all.
Tessa McLean

I was out of there by 3:42 p.m. — since I was about five minutes late, that means I was there just over 15 minutes.

Upon leaving, I was encouraged to download the company’s app to receive my results in the fastest way.

App or not, I received my results just 24 hours later. Negative.

As I said before, I didn’t expect the results to be positive, but even with the test confirming my hypothesis, it’s important to note that according to Carbon Health, the false-negative range from the test is between 3-15%. It’s also possible any antibodies in my body that I did have aren’t present anymore. According to the CDC, some people may not develop antibodies at all.

It's also possible I have a current infection, though it's unlikely. It takes one to three weeks after infection to develop antibodies, the CDC says, so this is no substitution for a regular COVID-19 diagnosis test. Most likely, I just never had the virus. It's also possible I have a current infection, though it's unlikely. It takes one to three weeks after infection to develop antibodies, the CDC says, so this is no substitution for a regular COVID-19 diagnosis test. While getting a test was fairly easy, it's probably not something most people need to do. It likely won't change anything for you, and if your insurance doesn't cover the cost, you'll be out around $200 at least. Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at tessa.mclean@sfgate.com or follow her on Twitter @mcleantessa. MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE: Sign up for 'The Daily' newsletter for the latest on coronavirus here. Stage 3 may come soon: What that means for summer travel Sweden's 'herd immunity' experiment backfires With more research on kids and coronavirus, a UCSF doctor shares what parents need to know
Virojt Changyencham/Getty Images

It’s also possible I have a current infection, though it’s unlikely. It takes one to three weeks after infection to develop antibodies, the CDC says, so this is no substitution for a regular COVID-19 diagnosis test.

Most likely, I just never had the virus.

It’s also possible I have a current infection, though it’s unlikely. It takes one to three weeks after infection to develop antibodies, the CDC says, so this is no substitution for a regular COVID-19 diagnosis test.

While getting a test was fairly easy, it’s probably not something most people need to do. It likely won’t change anything for you, and if your insurance doesn’t cover the cost, you’ll be out around $200 at least.

Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at tessa.mclean@sfgate.com or follow her on Twitter @mcleantessa.

MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:

Sign up for ‘The Daily’ newsletter for the latest on coronavirus here.

  • Stage 3 may come soon: What that means for summer travel
  • Sweden’s ‘herd immunity’ experiment backfires
  • With more research on kids and coronavirus, a UCSF doctor shares what parents need to know

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *