East Slope Family Practice now offering COVID-19 antibody test in Great Falls

East Slope Family Practice in Great Falls is now able to conduct antibody tests to determine if patients have previously had COVID-19 and recovered.

The local clinic recently ordered and received testing supplies for COVID-19 antibodies. They completed six antibody tests on April 15, according to Amanda Engman, a partner at the clinic and nurse practitioner.

She and her partner Jeremiah Watt, also a nurse practitioner, are continuing to test for current, or acute infections.

Engman said that when the outbreak was starting, they knew the Great Falls community would end up with people infected with COVID-19 and they wanted to know real numbers, so they got in touch with their lab providers so they could do testing at their clinic.

As of April 15, there were still 13 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Cascade County. Of those, eight have recovered so far, according to CCHD.

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They started acute testing, to determine if a person currently has the virus, about a month ago. Their testing supplies for that test are limited, just like everybody else, Engman said.

About a week ago, they found out about the antibody test, which was more accessible, so they called their vendor and ordered the test.

They started antibody testing on April 15, she said.

It’s a finger stick, they just need a drop of blood and results are available within 5 to 10 minutes.

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Engman said they’re still prioritizing patients for the test, but the antibody test is less limited than the acute tests, so they’re being as proactive as possible.

She said they’re looking for people who potentially had symptoms during the last few months who think they could have had COVID-19, especially those with higher risk factors such as traveling abroad or out of state, exposure to someone who was positive, or who had symptoms that were out of the ordinary.

They’ll use their clinical judgment on whether an antibody test is warranted, “but do feel testing a large percentage of our patients is important.”

Engman said they’ll talk to anyone who calls about their situation to determine if an antibody test is warranted.

The antibody test is not designed for people who are currently experiencing symptoms and think they might have COVID-19.

The test was one of several that received emergent authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has a 95 percent accuracy, she said.

Engman said the clinic is working with Cascade County City-County Health Department to figure out how best to share their numbers for positive test and the antibody tests.

East Slope is sending acute tests to an independent, private lab that then reports results to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, she said.

Engman said they’re taking precautions to keep people safe and having patients call from their vehicles when they arrive, discuss the situation by phone, and then meet them in the parking lot for further assessment or testing. some patients still need to come into the office for appointments, but they’re trying to avoid having people congregate in the waiting room to reduce the chances of viral spread, she said.

The antibody test checks for two types of antibodies. One means you had COVID-19 in the past and now have some immunity to it. The other means you have the virus now, or fairly recently, so it also helps with some acute testing, Engman said. If the tests were to show the antibody for a recent or current infection, they’d conduct the acute test as well, Engman said.

The antibody test is not designed to find current infections for treatment and mitigation, but instead to gather data on how widespread the virus could be in the community if people had similar symptoms and recovered earlier this year without knowing it was COVID-19.

East Slope is regularly sharing all of their data with the city-county health department.

Because it’s a new virus, less is known about how it behaves, she said, but generally, once a person has a virus, the body builds up antibodies to attack it as a protective mechanism. Engman said that there’s some questions globally about recovering from COVID-19 and then contracting it again, but typically, once a person has had a virus, they don’t get the same strain again. If the test shows a person has the antibodies meaning they had the virus already and recovered, it doesn’t guarantee immunity and it’s unknown how this virus behaves in terms of reinfections, what antibody levels are needed to fight it off or how long the immunity lasts.

She said East Slope can’t test everyone, but “we’re doing our best to help the community.”

The test could help give the community heath officials more information on what’s happening locally with COVID-19, she said.

It’s a situation most haven’t faced in their lifetime, Engman said.

“People are worried and people are scared,” she said.

Engman and Watt are Great Falls natives operating the independent clinic.

If you think you’ve had COVID-19 in recent months and are interested in the antibody test, call East Slope Family Practice at 727-3242 to discuss your symptoms and whether a test is warranted.

For patients with insurance, they’ll just be billed for an office visit and either no charge or a minimal charge for the test.

For cash payments, the test and office visit is about $70.