Antibody testing on Canterbury Rehab patients, staff raises questions about accuracy of COVID-19 test

Coronavirus

(WRIC) — 8News has confirmed Granger Genetics in Midlothian has conducted antibody testing on patients and staff at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center where at least 49 people have died as a result of COVID-19.

The findings have raised questions about the accuracy of the COVID-19 nasal swab test.

Granger Genetics, which has been doing diagnostics for 20 years, has developed what they believe to be a very accurate coronavirus antibody test. In an effort to validate that claim, Rebecca Caffrey, Granger Genetics COVID-19 Testing Program Director, says the team has been using samples from Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center. Those samples include both positive and negative coronavirus cases.

Caffrey told 8New they first sought help from the community, asking online for those who had been tested to provide blood samples. However, they weren’t getting enough. So, Caffrey went into Canterbury Rehab during the outbreak and tested patients and staff.

The findings were stunning.

Of the 10 staff members who had repeated negative nasal swab tests, 60 percent (6 out of 10) had antibodies.

Caffrey says some of the staff from Canterbury tested negative for the virus 2 or 3 times with that nasal swab test. “Literally 2 or 3 times and they had the antibody, so they have obviously been exposed or exposed recently,” Caffrey explained.

This Friday, March 27, 2020, photo shows the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Richmond, Va. The Center is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Caffrey says the results has her questioning the accuracy of the nasal swab tests for COVID-19.

She says it was believed the false-negative rate was about 30 percent. However, she says, “When I am looking at folks who have had the antibody test, I am finding between 40 percent to 60 percent of those were false-positives because they have antibodies to COVID-19.”

Caffrey says that underscores how the lack of available testing and the lack of accurate testing has made it so hard for Canterbury Rehab to make decisions about staffing and patient care. She asks, ‘If you test 10 people and you are getting a wrong result of false-negative, how can you possibly make good decisions when operating on bad decisions?”

Caffrey told 8News the antibody test is not looking at where the virus is going but where it has been.

“If you can identify the people who have been infected then you know they have mounted an immune response,” she said. “You can’t say that they’re immune but you can say that they are protected because they have developed some antibody to the virus. That means they are at lower risk of contracting it again or they are at lower risk of spreading it to other people.”

Going into Canterbury to do the antibody tests where there’s been a big outbreak meant Caffrey had to quarantine herself at home to protect her family. “I had prepared a space in the garage workshop with a cot and a little mini-fridge,” she said. “When I come home from work, after working with the COVID-19 samples, I shower at work, change clothes to get the germs off of me and I go home and hang out in the garage.”

Granger Genetics told 8News they would love to test more people for antibodies. They are looking for anyone who has had a negative or positive COVID-19 test.

The genetics company can only accept study participants who have a printed copy of their positive or negative nasal swab test in hand when they come to donate.

Anyone interested in providing a blood sample can click here for more information. The turnaround time for results is about 24 hours.

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