Salt Lake City-based ARUP Laboratories initiated COVID-19 antibody testing for both University of Utah and the Intermountain Healthcare system this past week—both representing the largest health care systems in Utah. Testing capacity has been constrained by supply chain limitations. The lab’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julio Delgado reports that they hope to have the important antibody test available state-wide and then nationally. Many experts have commented that before the region or country can fully open back up, a thorough antibody testing infrastructure must be in place.
COVID-19 in Utah
As of this writing, approximately 2,303 COVID-19 cases are known in Utah—a state with about 3.1 million people. 18 have passed away due to coronavirus. At 756 cases per million inhabitants, the state of Utah ranks better than the nation as a whole that reports 1,693 cases per million. In terms of mortality caused by the novel coronavirus, Utah represents one of the safest locations in the United States at six deaths per one million population; the nation ranks at 67 deaths per one million population; and New York leads in fatalities at 478 deaths per one million, according to one source.
Pervasive antibody testing represents a fundamental perquisite in the path back to the new normal. However, in this first stage of testing, ARUP Laboratories seeks to undertake the following:
- Determine the number of individuals who have actually been infected, including those with mild disease and those without symptoms. This will provide better idea of the true rate of infection and a better understanding of the case fatality rate.
- Determine individuals who have developed immunity against this infection and potentially could come back to work.
- Guide public health strategies in the context of diagnosis, contact tracing and containment of future outbreaks
Pervasive and comprehensive testing is a game changer, reports Dr. Ray Firszt, an allergist-immunologist in Utah and Salt Lake City is lucky to have a national lab in their backyard. “We believe that if you’re infected and you recover, and you develop IgG antibodies, so the memory of the antibody, that you are effectively immune to the virus. This means you cannot get it again if you are exposed to the same antibodies and you’re not contagious to someone else,” Firszt noted.
Testing Starts on Front Lines
Testing will commence first on those on the front lines in Utah’s battle against COVID-19. This would include healthcare workers first and foremost. Dr. Delgado, according to a report from FOX13 News, suggests the goal is to understand how has been infected, produced the antibodies and a determination if they have developed immunity to the virus. Hence a class would be identified that can safely go back to work in force. Once front-line testing is on its way, the lab will consider using the tests to produce a sample-based biobank available for other ill people who can benefit from convalescent plasma transmission of a sample that includes SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
Organizing a Return to the New Normal
By collaborating with the two large health care systems as well as Utah Department of Health and the State’s health agency, ARUP Laboratories can: A) commence phased antibody testing starting with front line workers; B) develop and execute health data collection for research and care coordination; and C) generate sufficient data for transition to a new normal, which will include far more proactive and in depth planning for future pandemics moving forward.
Who is ARUP Laboratories?
ARUP Laboratories is an American national reference laboratory and a nonprofit enterprise of the University of Utah and its Department of Pathology. The organization offers over 3,000 tests and test combinations, ranging from routine screening to molecular and genetic assays to of course, now COVID-19 antibody testing. Faculty of the University of Utah’s School of Medicine serve as medical directors for each ARUP laboratory department, as consultants on diagnosis and patient-management questions, as researchers into new diagnostic laboratory technology and disease mechanism, and as educators.
With 4,000 employees and 65 laboratories, they occupy facilities in Salt Lake City. Their operation includes a 300,000 square-foot facility, where over 55,000 specimens of blood, fluid and tissue samples are processed each day.