Atrium Health is committed to providing teammates, employers and patients with the most reliable testing available on the market for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). And as we continue to take additional steps to provide a COVID-Safe environment to protect our teammates, our patients and our communities, Atrium Health is proud to offer antibody testing to provide information about prior exposure and findings that will support future research, establish clinical guidelines and improve public health.
As part of the initial pilot, these tests will be made available to our teammates on a volunteer basis at no cost. The results from this first round of testing will determine how we will approach opening additional antibody testing sites to the community at hundreds of Atrium Health locations.
“We are still learning what this testing means, but if we’re able to test for antibodies now, we can help interpret the data, help make informed decision with results, and be trusted health advisors along the way,” says Scott Rissmiller, MD, EVP and Chief Physician Executive at Atrium Health.
Learn from Katie Passaretti, MD, medical director of infectious prevention at Atrium Health and Dr. Rissmiller about what antibody testing is and what we can expect.
Question 1: What is an antibody test?
Answer 1 | Dr. Passaretti: This test looks for antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections. These tests show if you have had a previous infection to a virus like COVID-19. Your body makes antibodies when it fights an infection, similar to this strain of coronavirus. The same thing happens when you get a vaccine, like a flu shot. That’s how you develop immunity (or protection) against a virus.
Q2: How are samples collected for the antibody test?
A2 | Dr. Rissmiller: Through a venipuncture that will draw blood through the vein. Following your test, you will receive a message with your results through your MyAtriumHealth account, if you have signed up.
Tests will be reported as either positive or negative for COVID-19 antibodies. It’s important to note that this test will NOT tell you if you currently have the virus.
Q3: How long can I expect test results to take?
A3 | Dr. Rissmiller: As the only healthcare system in the region to do antibody testing in-house, our turnaround testing time yields results quicker on average. It will take 24-48 hours to run the test to see if you have antibodies present for COVID-19.
Q4: What does it mean if I have a positive or negative result?
A4 | Dr. Passaretti: A positive test means you have been exposed to the virus at some point in the past. It does not tell you when you were exposed or where you were exposed. A positive test may not necessarily mean you’re totally immune, but it tells if you have detectable antibody. A negative test result means you’re susceptible; you haven’t been exposed or infected, but still at-risk, or could mean you’re in the window of antibodies developing.
Whether the antibody test result is positive or negative and until we know more about antibody testing results, we encourage those to continue to practice the same precautions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, by practicing social distancing, washing hands and wearing a face mask.
Q5: Why is Atrium Health offering these antibody tests?
A5 | Dr. Rissmiller: Atrium Health is initially offering this service to teammates with expansion to businesses and the community to provide access to antibody testing with the most accurate result we can offer.
Q6: Why should I participate in this antibody test?
A6 | Dr. Passaretti: The intent of conducting antibody testing is in line with our academic mission of learning about this virus and the impact to the community. We hope to have a better understanding about not only how many people have been infected but also achieve a better understanding around how the virus is being transmitted. The potential role of antibody testing will support future research, establish clinical guidelines and improve public health.
Q7: Are these test results accurate?
A7 | Dr. Passaretti: Because our Atrium Health laboratory has validated the test, you know your results are coming from a trusted source. In fact, our antibody testing has the lowest percentage of “false-positives and negatives” when compared to other tests.
We are the only healthcare organization in the region to do antibody testing in-house, which enables us to yield a quick turnaround in test results and bring large scale testing here in Charlotte.
Q8: Who is eligible for antibody testing?
A8 | Dr. Passaretti: As a part of the pilot phase, Atrium Health is offering its first round of testing exclusively to teammates and our community partners. The results from our pilot phase will determine next steps for how we plan to expand antibody testing to the public, making us the first health organization in the region to offer antibody testing to our communities.
The ideal candidates for antibody testing are those within a group setting with a high-risk of spread or exposure, like our healthcare workers, the homeless and those in skilled nursing facilities. Antibody testing is not intended for people with active symptoms.
Q9: Are Atrium Health teammates required to take the antibody test?
A9 | Dr. Rissmiller: This testing is completely voluntary for teammates. Atrium Health is offering this free of charge to teammates when done through Teammate Health. We want you to have a reliable resource for antibody testing.
Q10: Where should general consumers expect to find testing sites once testing is made available to the communities?
A10 | Dr. Passaretti: We plan to have convenient testing sites set up throughout Charlotte. Locations are for non-COVID patients only and staff all wear appropriate PPE for your protection and theirs. Similar to our teammates, results will be available within 24-48 hours.
Q11: Do community members need an appointment?
A11 | Dr. Rissmiller: Yes, it is important that you schedule an appointment before arriving at the testing site.
Q12: Who will be administering these tests?
A12 | Dr. Rissmiller: Once testing sites are in place, we’ll have a team of trained clinicians available to provide results and counseling. You’ll review your results by video chat once they’re available with one of our experts who will help you understand your exposure to COVID-19 and provide guidance on how to best protect yourself and boost your immune system.
Q13: Should I get an antibody test if I think I have the COVID-19 infection?
A13 | Dr. Passaretti: The antibody test cannot tell you if you have an active infection. It takes days to weeks for your body to develop antibodies against the virus. Even if your antibody is positive, it cannot distinguish between a current or past COVID infection. The antibody test is best to determine exposure or infection that may have occurred several weeks ago or longer.
Regardless of what test shows, still take same precautions: Wear a face mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing. Businesses need to check for symptoms and ensure employees stay home while ill.
Learn more about our COVID-Safe for Employers initiative to help organizations return to work safely.