HOUSTON - With double the amount of tests available in both the city of Houston and Harris County, as well as expanded access for asymptomatic folks - the question is who should get tested? And will results be accurate?
On Monday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said any Houstonian who wants to get tested, can now do so, even if they're not showing symptoms.
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Initially, health officials believed only symptomatic people could spread coronavirus COVID-19, but now experts say those without symptoms can also be carriers.
“The more testing we can do the more data we can have because you want to make your decision based off the facts,” Turner said.
During the city's daily briefing on Tuesday, Turner said deciding when to loosen restrictions for Houstonians would depend on COVID-19 test results.
The Houston Health Department said anyone who wants to get tested – should. Everyone is now considered an ideal candidate, as authorities work to understand this novel virus.
Dr. Pedro Piedra is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in virology and microbiology. Dr. Piedra is now working with a team of researchers to develop an anti-body test.
“If you've been infected, the assumption will be that if you get re-exposed and re-infected, you're going to have a milder disease - now that also has to be proven,” Piedra said.
This week, Dr. Piedra said his team started collecting blood samples from patients who tested positive for COVID-19 four to six weeks ago.
“Anti-body testing asks the question - 'Have you seen the virus?' It doesn't tell you whether you're protecting against it,” Piedra said.
He also clarifies that the antibody-test is not to be confused with a vaccine.
Piedra says a nasal swab test can reveal if someone is currently infected with the virus; a vaccine can provide immunity; and an anti-body test could best be used as a data-collection tool.
“A vaccine is giving you all the benefits of the immune response with minimal amount of risk. The antibody test is simply a tool and you can use it how you think that tool will work best.
“If you want to understand the prevalence in the community or in a particular workforce - it can be used to address that.
“If you want to identify individuals who have been infected because you would like to contact them for potentially using them as donors, for plasma foresees - it can be used for that,” Piedra said.
Baylor researchers said the anti-body test they’re working to develop could examine more than 1,000 blood samples at once and get results in just 3-4 hours.
At this point, Dr. Piedra said they don’t have an exact time frame, however on average, he says researchers take about three months to fully develop an anti-body test.