RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — After an exchange at Governor Ralph Northam's May 11 COVID-19 briefing surrounding the antibody testing performed in Virginia, the health department released specific data related to the testing method on Thursday.
On Monday, a reporter asked state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver why Virginia counts serologic tests, also known as antibody tests, in its total number of COVID-19 tests reported each day.
The tests have been found to have lower confidence levels, according to many labs, but provider quicker results.
Dr. Oliver said Virginia's health department has tried to follow all CDC guidelines on testing, but that there is no federal guideline on whether to count antibody tests with all other tests. In light of that, according to Northam's chief of staff, Clark Mercer, Virginia looked to other states, saw that many included serologic tests in their test totals, and chose to follow their example to keep Virginia's statistics consistent for comparison's sake.
Mercer said "we can't win" because the state gets criticized for low testing numbers by not including something like serologic tests while other states include it and then gets criticized for including it when they try to be consistent with other states.
On May 14, the Virginia Department of Health released testing data broken out by PCR (diagnostic) and antibody (serology) tests to find any differences.
According to the department, antibody tests make up less than nine percent of overall tests.
When they're removed from the state's total results, the result is minimal change in the percent positive of tests and no difference in overall trends.
The Virginia Department of Health defines a COVID-19 case as "confirmed" when there is a positive PCR test. They say a main goal in monitoring the number of total testing encounters in Virginia and the percent of positive COVID-19 tests is to gauge the capacity of the healthcare system to perform more testing.
In the past three weeks, the number of antibody tests used has increased, so, moving forward, the department plans to provide a breakdown of COVID-19 test data by all test types and by only PCR tests.
All the latest health department data can be found online at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/here.