High-quality antibody tests and screening for the COVID-19 virus now available to the public in Colorado

May 26, 2020
UCHealth is now providing the public with high-quality, accurate antibody tests and screening for the virus that causes COVID-19. Photo by Cary Vogrin for UCHealth.

Editor’s note: For updated information on COVID-19 testing through UCHealth, please click here. For information on community testing locations throughout Colorado, please click here.

UCHealth is now offering COVID-19 testing to the public at facilities along the Front Range and in Steamboat Springs.

Two types of tests are available: antibody tests from blood samples to help people learn if they may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, and nasal swab tests, which can detect the presence of the virus that causes the infection.

To learn more about the testing or to make an appointment, click here.

Many insurance plans will cover the cost of testing or patients may choose to pay out of pocket. For those paying themselves, an antibody blood test costs $100 and the nasal swab test for COVID-19 costs $85. Anyone can get tested, and you do not need to be a UCHealth patient.

Why COVID-19 and antibody tests are available now

Two issues have slowed testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. First, there have been shortages of supplies like swabs and chemicals needed to do mass COVID-19 testing. And, second, most available commercial antibody tests have been inaccurate.

Dr. Richard Zane, Chief Innovation Officer for UCHealth, has been working with the team that has been developing COVID-19 tests. He said the team has identified and developed high-quality, accurate tests, and now has adequate supplies, making it possible to make testing available to the public.

“These are the highest-quality, most accurate tests available,” said Zane, who is also a professor and chair of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

While Zane is convinced that the antibody tests that UCHealth is offering are accurate, he warned people that if they test positive for having antibodies to COVID-19, for now they should be cautious about the results.

“As of today, the only thing we can say about having a positive result to an antibody test is that you have been exposed to COVID-19. We can’t say anything about whether you have any immunity or any protection from being re-infected,” Zane said.

“People should not act any differently,” Zane said. “They should continue to practice physical distancing and keep up with prevention measures like frequent hand washing and wearing masks when appropriate.”

In addition to the commercial antibody tests that UCHealth has verified, a team from the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus has also developed accurate antibody tests. (Click here to learn more about these efforts.) They will be soon be seeking authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and once those tests are ready, the University of Colorado Anschutz team can produce thousands of additional antibody tests to ensure that Colorado leaders will have plenty of antibody tests available.

Widespread testing, both for active cases of COVID-19 and for past exposure to the infection, could help Colorado medical experts and government leaders better understand the spread of disease and respond to the pandemic.

Currently, cases of COVID-19 have leveled off in Colorado, but epidemiologists expect new surges as more people return to their regular activities this summer, and possibly again as cooler weather returns in the fall.

“Widespread testing will give us a better idea of the spread of COVID-19 in the community and we may be able to identify people who are willing to donate plasma to help others who are severely ill with COVID-19,” Zane said.

To help people better understand the testing that is available through UCHealth, we’ve providing answers to some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 testing.

Which tests can I get through UCHealth?

UCHealth is offering two types of COVID-19 testing. All testing is voluntary.

One type of test can tell you if you currently have the virus that causes COVID-19. This test requires a nose swab.

UCHealth also is offering an antibody test. This test can tell you if may have been exposed to COVID-19. This test requires a blood draw.

What is the difference between the COVID-19 and antibody tests?

A nose-swab test can detect the virus that causes COVID-19 in someone who is sick now.

An antibody test can see if someone may have been exposed to COVID-19 and now has antibodies to the virus.

What are antibodies?

When we get infections, our bodies create proteins to fight infections. These are called antibodies.

How long does it take for a person to create antibodies?

It can take days or weeks for a person to develop antibodies.

How long do antibodies to COVID-19 last?

Researchers don’t know yet how long antibodies to COVID-19 last or whether they protect people from getting sick in the future.

High-quality antibody tests are now available to the public in Colorado at various locations throughout Colorado. Here, a lab manager works on tests at a UCHealth lab.
UCHealth labs are now doing both COVID-19 tests and antibody tests for members of the public. Photo by UCHealth.

Why should I get the COVID-19 test?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 now, a nose-swab test may be able determine if you are infected with COVID-19, the new coronavirus causing the pandemic. These signs include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exhaustion
  • Body aches
  • Sudden loss of taste or smell

Also, some people who are not exhibiting any symptoms may be asked to get a COVID-19 test before returning to work.

Why should I get an antibody test?

Antibody tests can tell you if you have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. If you test positive and you have fully recovered from COVID-19, you might be able to donate what’s known as convalescent plasma for the treatment of patients who are currently sick with COVID-19. Click here to learn more about convalescent plasma.

Also, results from antibody tests might help medical experts understand how widely the new coronavirus has spread in our communities.

But, it’s important to know that a positive test result to an antibody test does not mean you are safe (immune) from getting COVID-19 in the future. Researchers are still working to understand how protective these antibodies to COVID-19 may be.

If I get a positive test result from an antibody test, what does that mean?

Since COVID-19 is such a new illness, medical experts are still learning how COVID-19 antibodies work. If you get a positive test result, that means you probably were exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

But, a positive result does not mean you are immune or less likely to get COVID-19 in the future.

Even if your results from an antibody test are positive, you should still follow social distancing guidelines. These include:

  • Staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household.
  • Washing your hands often.
  • Wearing a mask in public.
  • Staying home if you are having any symptoms of COVID-19.

What if I get a positive result from a COVID-19 test?

If you learn that you have COVID-19, you should isolate yourself at home right away and contact your health care provider. You may be able to heal at home. But, you should get medical help right away if you are having serious problems like trouble breathing.

I heard antibody tests can be inaccurate. Is that true?

Yes, there are many commercial antibody tests found at drug stores, labs and at medical facilities. Many of these tests are not accurate and have not been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

UCHealth is only offering tests that our medical experts have tested and verified. UCHealth COVID-19 tests are high-quality, accurate, FDA-authorized tests and far exceed current FDA authorization requirements.

What questions should I ask about antibody tests?

Be very careful about the type of antibody test you get and ask questions about the type of test you will be getting. UCHealth experts found that most antibody tests that only required a finger prick were not accurate. You will want an antibody test that:

  • Requires a full blood draw.
  • Has been tested and proven to be accurate.
  • Is authorized by the FDA.

Why is an inaccurate antibody test concerning?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is what’s known as a coronavirus. These viruses are very common, and some are not dangerous. A different type of coronavirus causes the common cold. An inaccurate antibody test might find antibodies to other common coronaviruses. If you get results from an inaccurate antibody test, you might wrongly believe you have antibodies to COVID-19 when, in fact, you have antibodies to one of the fare more common coronaviruses that people frequently get.

Regardless of your results from any antibody test, please do not assume that you are immune to COVID-19. This illness is serious and can cause people to become critically ill. Please take all precautions to protect yourself and others from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Where is UCHealth offering testing?

Currently UCHealth is offering testing at select facilities. We expect to expand our list of testing facilities by June 1.

antibody testing - check in at Memorial Hospital
Antibody tests are available to the public now at multiple sites along the Front Range, including UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs. Photo by Cary Vogrin for UCHealth.

How can I make an appointment to get a COVID-19 test, an antibody test or both?

Currently test scheduling is done via My Health Connection, UCHealth’s free, convenient patient portal.

Will my health insurance cover testing?

Many insurance providers will cover COVID-19 and antibody testing, but you should check on the details for your insurance plan. If you have not met the yearly deductible for your plan, you could be charged. And, for antibody testing, it’s also possible that the cost of the test itself may be covered, but that you will be charged for the blood draw.

If I don’t have health insurance, can I still get tested?

Yes, you can pay out of pocket for testing. If you pay yourself, a nose swab to test for COVID-19 will cost $85 and an antibody test will cost $100.

Do I need to be a current UCHealth patient to get tested?

No. You are welcome to get tested even if you are not a current UCHealth patient. You will need to sign up for a My Health Connection account to schedule a test and get your results.

How long will it take to get my results back?

You will get your results within a few days. You might get your results sooner depending on where you get tested.

Will my test results be used for research?

Your test results are private. But researchers may use anonymous testing data to find how widely COVID-19 has spread throughout the community and to assist public health experts and government leaders as they try minimize the spread of COVID-19.

How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Stay at least six feet away from people in public.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Wearing a mask when appropriate.

If you need medical advice, please contact your provider.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.