Chester County is first in Commonwealth to initiate COVID-19 antibody testing

CHESTER COUNTY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Officials in Chester County, Pennsylvania announced a plan to undertake antibody testing of priority individuals who are currently performing essential functions in the fight against COVID-19. This is the first in the Commonwealth to undertake such a test.

"We have just received a shipment of 10,000 blood test kits and are expecting a second shipment of 10,000 more next week. These kits will be administered to priority individuals - emergency responders, healthcare workers and staff at long-term care facilities throughout Chester County, to determine those who have developed coronavirus antibodies, with or without symptoms," said Chester County Commissioners' Chair Marian Moskowitz.

The test, called RapCov, is made by Advaite, of Chester Springs.

The company's CEO Karthik Musunuri told Action News it is sensitive enough to detect antibodies about 4 days after the first symptom, and can determine whether someone is recovering from COVID-19, had a recent infection or a past one.

RapCov is manufactured at Frontida Pharmaceuticals of Northeast Philadelphia, a contract drug maker.

When Frontida gets up to full speed, Musunuri says it will produce 40,000-60,000 tests per day.

He says the test builds on a platform already used in testing for Ebola, Zika, and Dengue fever.

It is designed as a serologic diagnostic test, however, the FDA has not approved any tests of that type to diagnose diseases.

Nasal swabs used in testing thus far are molecular tests, looking for presence of the coronavirus DNA in a person's throat.
When a person gets infected by a particular germ, the body starts making specially designed proteins called antibodies to fight the infection. After the person recovers, those antibodies float in survivors' blood -- specifically plasma, the liquid part of blood - for months, even years.

The tests are just another weapon in the county's arsenal to fight the coronavirus.

"This test is supplemental to the coronavirus testing that we have already been doing and will continue to do," said Jeanne Casner, Chester County Health Department Director. "It is not a replacement test for confirming cases.

The first level priority testing will begin this week.

Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline said, "As we review the results of the antibody blood tests, we will work with first responders, hospitals and long-term care facilities to determine how the results can best be used to manage this crisis. It is our intention to continue sourcing more of the blood test kits. The more we have, the more people we can test to get a fuller picture of how many have had COVID-19 in Chester County, either knowingly or unknowingly."

Officials say the antibody test will not require the use of personal protection equipment required by first responders, healthcare workers and staff at long-term care facilities.

To date, three Chester County residents have died from the virus. A total of 304 cases have been confirmed in the county.
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.