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UW scientists to begin testing people for past coronavirus infections

UW Medicine Virology lab manager Greg Pepper processes antibody tests.
UW Medicine
UW Medicine Virology lab manager Greg Pepper processes antibody tests.


People who have recovered from COVID-19 get some level of immunity to the virus. Now scientists at the University of Washington are set to start testing people for past infection. 

The new blood test, produced by Illinois-based Abbott Labs, looks for antibodies to the virus. It is intended to shed light on both how widespread the outbreak really is, and who could be relatively safe from reinfection. That, in turn, could help front-line workers make decisions about what precautions they need to take. 

“Having these antibodies is clearly going to allow people to have a higher degree of confidence, for example being a first-line health provider, being a first-line in the grocery stores, all the people who are at risk right now, this can allow some of them to have more confidence in their day-to-day lives,” said Keith Jerome, head of Virology at UW Medicine. 

Jerome said preliminary trials show the new test is extremely accurate, with virtually no false positives so far. 

“This gives us another fantastic tool to really give us the sense that we’re starting to turn the tables on this virus a little bit,” Jerome said. “We can find the virus, we can also find who had it. And this allows us to then do the tracing, this control, this containment of this virus, that I think is what we need to do to start getting our lives back. 

The lab has capacity to process about 4,000 tests a day. UW scientists say they hope to ramp up to 12,000-14,000 tests a day within a couple of weeks. Patients would need to be referred by a medical provider in order to get it. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.