PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) --  A free COVID-19 antibody testing program run by the state and the University of Arizona is expanding.

The program is adding 15 new categories of essential workers, and will now be able to test 250,000 people across Arizona.  

A person with antibodies means they've been exposed to COVID-19, and their body had an immune response.

Along with collecting data on which essential workers might be most at risk of COVID-19, UArizona also wants to answer questions about what this immune response might mean. "Very interested in trying to figure out how much is protective, how long these antibodies persist," said Deepta Bhattacharya, an associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. 

Antibody testing

Antibody testing

Bhattacharya helped develop the antibody test being used by UArizona. They call the test "one of the most accurate in the country" and say it has a false positive rate between 1 in 5,000 and 1 in 10,000. "Right now this is essentially a new virus that none of us have seen before," Bhattacharya said. 

And currently, we still don't know much about how antibodies affect a person's immunity to COVID-19. 

So, out of the 250,000 people who get tested for antibodies in Arizona, 4,000 will be selected for a year-long study. "What we have is a study matrix where we look at different groups," said Dr. Jeff Burgess, principal investigator of the AZ HEROES Study. 

The people selected for the study will be healthcare workers, first responders, and other front line workers. Researchers will also be picking participants based on factors like race, gender, and age.   

"One particular component of our study that's special and different from any of the other studies that are out there in the US is that half of our 4,000 participants will have to have had previous COVID-19 infection," Dr. Burgess said. 

The study will look at the number of antibodies a person has over time and will test to see if a person has gotten reinfected with COVID-19. 

"With that information, we can tell a number of different things. First of all, how frequently does reinfection occur? How long is it until reinfection can occur?" Dr. Burgess said. It will hopefully also answer the question of how severe a second infection might be. 

Not only will this be useful information for everyday people, researchers say it could also help with the development of a vaccine.

You can go here for more information on the free COVID-19 antibody tests and for more information on the study. 


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