It has been over six months since the world started grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, had never been seen before. That meant even our top researchers, scientists, and medical experts knew nothing about the virus.
Today, we have a better understanding of the virus and how it affects patients compared to what we knew a few months ago. However, we are continuing to learn new things as we search for treatment and a vaccine.
As the world continues to battle the pandemic and countries confront both a health and economic crisis, it is clear that until a vaccine exists, testing is essential to reopening and coexisting with SARS-CoV-2.
Currently, there are two main types of COVID-19 testing kits approved for clinical use, the viral RT-PCR RNA testing kit and the antibody testing kit. SDI Labs offers both. SDI’s viral RT-PCR RNA test is one of only 37 molecular-based tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). The antibody serology test is also FDA EUA approved.
“What people don’t recognize about medical tests is that you need to know what your goal is when you order a particular test, because every single test tells you different types of information, and it has a particular context in which it is useful,” said Dr. David Haase, SDI’s Medical Director.
The viral RT-PCR RNA test detects a current SARS-CoV-2 infection. It tests for SARS-CoV-2 genetic material, also known as RNA. If the viral RNA is detected, then the virus is present. Dr. Haase feels this is the most important test.
“Now, the other test that has gotten a lot of press is the antibody test. That is a measure of the immune response of a human to a particular virus or bacteria,” Dr. Haase said. “This test is fraught with more challenges because there are other coronaviruses outside of SARS-CoV-2. Sometimes these antibody tests can create a false positive test or maybe that individual doesn’t produce a lot of antibodies because they don’t have the intact immune system, then you would get a false negative response.”
Antibody testing uses a blood sample to detect two types of antibodies: IgM, which develop early on in an infection, and IgG, which are more likely to appear after an individual has recovered. Antibody tests can be used to supplement RNA tests, but should not be used as the sole basis for the diagnosis or exclusion of COVID-19, according to the CDC and the WHO.
“There are rapid tests, and then there are also tests that get done in a high complexity lab such as SDI. The high complexity lab has a higher degree of sensitivity and specificity because there are many more controls that can be placed on the process. Rapid testing has more false positives and false negatives,” Dr. Haase said.
Combining the use of viral RT-PCR RNA tests and antibody tests allows patients to identify both if they are currently infected with COVID-19, and if they may have previously had it.
With this information, patients have a better understanding of their health history. Meanwhile, employers are able to understand who is currently infected, who has been infected and who hasn’t been. Based on that data, they’re able to make informed decisions about safe workplace re-entry.
“We do the viral RT-PCR RNA test to identify the current infection — whether the patient is currently infected or not,” Oz said. “If the patient is negative, if they are an employee, we evaluate their immunity to say whether they have developed antibodies to get back to work, to the greatest possibility with a mask and social distancing guidelines. That’s why we combine highly sensitive antibody testing with the wider testing of the viral RT-PCR RNA test.”
What is SDI’s testing solution?
“SDI’s approach to COVID-19 is an end-to-end solution focused on patient centricity,” Oz said. It involves four key steps: test, track, treat, and isolate
First, SDI Labs believes in testing 100% of the patient population to determine a baseline of who has an active SARS-CoV-2 infection and who does not. Then, SDI Labs uses a digital intake process to collect essential data that, in the event of a positive diagnosis, informs the provider and enables virus contact tracing.
“The tracking part is very important at the patient population level, especially with this virus and infectious diseases so that we can inform the doctors and public health agencies on how to control the spread,” Oz said. “We have built-in systems, data solutions, mobile systems, and cloud applications to help us do that because we are not just a lab. We are a technology company that combined with a lab.”
SDI Labs connects patients to telehealth providers and empowers physicians with accurate data to appropriately assess and triage the patient, and determine the best therapies and care.
“We are partnering with telehealth companies to give the right level of guidance and data so that the doctor can assess and triage the patient — who needs quarantine, who needs the next level of care — based on the data that we have on symptoms, underlying medical conditions, medication, and the test results,” Oz said.
Finally, SDI Labs encourages patients who are infected, think they might be, or came into contact with someone who was, to stay home and isolate in an effort to halt the spread within their community.
“As humans to each other, it’s up to the private citizens,” Oz said. “It’s up to the private enterprises to step up and do their job. We are at war with this virus, and it’s the virus versus mankind. It’s not the virus versus the country. It’s not the virus versus a certain class. It’s the virus versus mankind.”