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Experts to start reporting coronavirus recoveries, test if people have already had virus

How do you know if you’ve already recovered from COVID-19

DETROIT – Michigan’s chief medical officer said the state hopes to being reporting the number of people who have recovered from the coronavirus (COVID-19). How do you know if you’ve already had the coronavirus and recovered?

That answer will become increasingly important as the world tries to recover from the pandemic.

Several universities and labs are racing to develop antibody tests. The tests aren’t designed to diagnose people who currently have COVID-19, but rather to identify those who have already recovered.

As someone recovers from a virus, their immune system produces antibodies -- Y-shaped proteins that help protect us from catching the same illness in the future.

Antibody tests

Some of the antibody tests in the works require just a finger prick. Others need a blood draw.

Mount Sinai Health System in New York has created one of the tests. If there are antibodies present, it triggers a change in color. The darker the color, the higher the antibodies.

That’s important because those with higher levels of antibodies are most likely to be able to donate something called convalescent plasma -- a potential treatment for coronavirus patients.

The Mayo Clinic has spent the past three weeks evaluating five different antibody tests. They hope to have a test available for doctors to order sometime this week.

Antibody tests will not replace the current swab tests for people with active COVID-19 because they aren’t effective until after someone recovers.

“It takes many days, multiple days, typically eight, nine, 10, 11 days in some cases to detect an immune response to the virus,” said Dr. Ellie Theel, a Mayo Clinic researcher.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has referenced the need for antibody tests moving forward.

“There are people that may have had COVID-19 and didn’t have dramatic enough impacts that they needed a test to confirm that they’ve had it,” Whitmer said. “But we want to confirm that they did and to know that they’ve got antibodies.”

Immunity

Even if you are proven to have some level of immunity, it’s not clear how long that will last.

There’s also a chance the virus will mutate in some way, which will make past immunity ineffective.

There’s still a lot to learn about COVID-19.


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