By Gwen Orel
When people speak about testing for COVID-19, they mean two kinds of tests: One that ascertains whether people have it, and another that determines whether people have had it and recovered, and developed antibodies for it.
A Montclair company, ArrayMedTech (arraymedtech.com), is donating test kits to the Montclair Ambulance Unit and a local factory owner so they can screen workers for the presence of these COVID-19 antibodies.
The company was founded about six weeks ago, when Yiheng Tang, a Chinese business partner of Montclair resident David Adams, let him know that he had some sample test kits available.
This week, ArrayMedTech donated test kits to MAU.
“I’m a business person who saw the need,” Adams said. He began talking to doctors in New Jersey and on the West Coast, and to epidemiologists.
At the beginning of March, nobody knew what was going on with the virus, and there was a desperate need for testing, Adams said.
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The samples, authorized by the FDA, were sent.
And Adams got sick. “I didn’t know if I had COVID-19. I had fever, aches. I self-isolated,” he said, adding that he used the test on himself.
“It doesn’t show you the presence of the virus, but of antibodies, which the body takes time to develop,” he said. When he took the test on March 23, there were no antibodies. A few weeks later his wife, Gina Kuyers, who is acting as director of partnerships for ArrayMedTech, suggested he take the test again.
This time, on April 16, he showed antibodies. He has had no symptoms since April 1.
The test is a finger-stick test, very similar to a glucose finger stick. Results can be available in 10 minutes. “I realized what a relief that is,” Adams said.
The test is not a substitute for the nasal swab or saliva test for the disease, Valerian cautioned. This test can only determine if a person has had the disease, not if they are currently infected.
The company is currently working on importing test kits and assembling them, so they may be sold in future, but the MAU samples will be donated.
And while it’s not definitive, Adams feels secure knowing he has some level of immunity now. He said that someone he knew, just a few years older than him, who was 53, recently died of COVID-19.
“I can only imagine what it would be like if I were an EMT or front-line nurse,” he said.
Dr. Chris Valerian, medical director of MAU, heard about the samples and asked Adams for help. He had been reading about serology testing when he heard about Adams having them.
The tests can bring some comfort level, Valerian said. He explained: “The IgM is an antibody formed a couple of days after the exposure to the disease. If you have that, the body is fighting, or has fought it. The IgG shows longer-term immunity. People with IgG have long-term immunity to the virus.
“Both are valuable, when you’re looking at healthcare workers who are going back into the field. They will know if they are immune or not. The mental peace alone is enough.”
While nobody knows yet how long immunity lasts, Valerian said, the IgG lasts a minimum of months, if not longer, for any disease.
“Most respiratory viruses we are exposed to, we have lifelong immunity from,” he said. “It would be unlikely if it’s not lifelong or significantly long. I’m pretty confident that we will figure that out.”
Valerian is grateful that ArrayMedTech is providing the tests at no charge to MAU, which is a not-for-profit, not funded by tax dollars but self-funding.
The tests will also play a part in determining the distribution of the vaccine, once it’s developed, Valerian said. People who are most at risk will be able to get it first — for example, the elderly in nursing homes — while people who have some immunity can receive it later.
Right now the FDA has not yet made this test available for home consumers.
The MAU test is not mandatory. Valerian went through MAU Chief Ashley Vegilante to let her know, and ask whether people wanted it.
“She said, ‘Everybody wants it. How soon can you get here?’”