Chesco to start antibody testing for COVID-19 for key personnel

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Chester County will be the first county in Pennsylvania to start testing essential personnel for COVID-19 with a blood antibody test, county health officials announced Monday afternoon, during a video community conference.

County Commissioner Chair Marian Moskowitz announced the testing initiative at the end of the teleconference — noting that testing will be done on essential personnel and key populations, including inmates and staff at Chester County Prison, hospitals, long-term health care facilities and first responders.

County officials, top left, Commissioner Josh Maxwell, Health Department Director Jeanne Casner, Director of Emergency Services, bottom left, Commissioner Michele Kichline and Commissioners Chair Marian Moskowitz.

“We have just received a shipment of 10,000 blood test kits and are expecting a second shipment of 10,000 more next week,” Moskowitz said. “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.”

The tests can determine those who have had the virus — and are unlikely to contract it again (although the science on that issue remains somewhat unclear) — and who has not been exposed and remains vulnerable.

County Health Department Director Jeanne Casner said the pin prick blood test is not a replacement for the swab test done on those suspected of having COVID-19.

“This test is supplemental to the coronavirus testing that we have already been doing and will continue to do,” she said “It is not a replacement test for confirming cases.”

The tests will help the county better manage the outbreak, she said.

“We are undertaking the antibody blood test as another weapon in the fight to control coronavirus,” Casner said. “Knowledge of who has developed antibodies to the virus can help us tremendously in our strategy to respond to emergencies, treat patients and care for the elderly.”

Officials said in a statement following the teleconference, Chester County purchased the antibody test kits from Advaite, a Chester County-based company. State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) connected county officials with Advaite as a potential test supplier. Chester County companies produce all key elements of the test, officials said. Test results are available within 15 minutes.    

Officials said the first level priority testing will begin this week, beginning with the Prison, Pocopson Home, and Chester County Youth Center.  Hospitals and long-term care facilities will administer the test, supplied by the County, themselves. The county’s health and emergency services officials are currently refining a system of testing for first responders, which will also begin this week.

Chester County Prison in Pocopson is a specific worry, with four staff members testing positive (one hospitalized) and four inmates testing positive (one hospitalized in stable condition for another health issue).

“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,” Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline said. “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.”

Casner, in response to a question from the media, said she didn’t agree with the idea of expanding swab testing to asymptomatic people as a way to better track the spread of the virus.

“This virus doesn’t support it,” she said. She explained that people may have it, but not have symptoms, test negative, and then later end up infected, so widespread testing by swab — especially as the number of such tests remain limited — is not warranted.

She did address another media question about the difference between County Health Department figures and those issued by the County Coroner — specifically, County Health as of Monday, listed three fatalities in the county, while the Coroner, Christina VandePol, is currently listing seven deaths.

She noted it was likely a difference in reporting process — deaths and causes come from the Coroner’s Office — and the reporting between the two offices would likely catch up in the near term.

Lastly, commissioners addressed questions about the financial impact of the virus on county government. Moskowitz said because of long-term careful fiscal planning, the county has a rainy day fund and there is no expectation at this time for a need to cut county services.

The meeting was attended by Moskowitz, Kichline, Commissioner Josh Maxwell, Casner and Mike Murphy, Director of Chester County Emergency Services.

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