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KARE 11 Investigates: New COVID tests start, but health department urges caution

Minnesota businesses offer COVID-19 antibody tests, but the results will only show if someone had the virus and shouldn’t be used solely to determine immunity

EDINA, Minn. — As Minnesota’s shortage of COVID-19 testing persists, at least two private businesses in the Twin Cities area are offering tests to the public that promise results in about 15 to 20 minutes, all without a doctor’s order.

But the tests come with a caution from the Minnesota Health Department, which the owners of the two companies acknowledge.

“This test does not determine if you have a current coronavirus infection,” said Paul Kahlert, owner and president of the Edina-based ArcPoint Labs, one of the companies that offers the testing.

The tests are different than the nasal swabs generally taken at hospitals and health clinics, which can take days to get results. Those tests are used to keep track of the Minnesota Department of Health’s daily count of confirmed positive cases and can confirm if there’s a current infection.

The private companies offer antibody tests, which use a pinprick of blood to determine if the patient has had the disease and is possibly now immune. Those results are not included in the state’s daily count.

The MDH issued a statement on Tuesday, urging caution about interpreting the results of the rapid tests. The health department said a negative result “does not rule out” a coronavirus infection, and results from the testing “should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose an infection or immunity.”

Despite those warnings, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a press conference Wednesday that the anti-body tests could be valuable.

“It’s going to be a way of helping us know who has already been exposed, and who is safe to continue to provide services and care and return to work in the economy,” she said.

Federal officials hope millions of the tests will eventually be available nationwide.

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They’ve already proven to be in high demand for James and Aundria Riggen, two physician assistants who founded LX Medical, an urgent care service that offers to make house calls.

As the coronavirus began to enter the United States, the two looked into potential testing for the disease, found a supplier and bought 1,000 kits. Within two weeks, they’ve already gone through nearly half of them.

Many of their customers have been health care workers, the couple said.

“We’ve had multiple physicians and nurses contact us that are saying they’re going out to New York and they want to know if they’ve had the antibodies,” Aundria Riggen said.

Like Kahlert, Riggen makes it clear that the test has limitations in diagnosing a current infection. Both also note that the test is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Late last month, the FDA authorized emergency use of the antibody tests prior to formal approval, so long as certain conditions were met including internal validation by the companies themselves.

\The state health department warns that to avoid being scammed, anyone considering a test should consult an FDA list of bona fide commercial manufacturers and laboratories.

RELATED: Report coronavirus scams and price gouging

The companies that supplied the tests the Kahlert’s and Riggens’ say they are using are on that list.

As for how much they charge, Kahlert says his is $95, with a discount for health care workers and first responders. The Riggens’ test starts at about the same price, but if the patient wants other diagnostics or treatment, the costs could go from $200 to $300.

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.

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