STURGIS — Consumers need to know that commercial COVID 19 testing locations in Sturgis this week for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are not testing for an active COVID infection, but are testing for coronavirus antibodies.
Unlike direct COVID-19 detection tests, like the nasopharyngeal swab, that can detect acutely infected persons, an antibody test determines whether the individual being tested was previously infected and their body has built antibodies, or an immune response to the virus.
Research reveals that Sturgis city officials and the South Dakota Department of Health have little oversight over the temporary COVID test companies.
“Those machines are regulated at the federal level, and so any testing has to be proven valid to offer that on a commercial basis. The Department of Health does not actually regulate those testing businesses,” said South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon.
Unlike temporary food vendors, who are inspected by the state DOH throughout the week during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the COVID testing companies are not, she said.
Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said although the testing companies are not inspected, they do need a local medical professional to review their testing procedures and sign off on it.
“They are inspected by the city just to ensure that they have their vendor permits and their sales tax license,” he said.
Michael McVay, who was manning the COVID 19 testing booth at Liberty Chevrolet Saturday, said he was at Sturgis because another individual who was supposed to be at the Rally “bailed” on them.
“He had already made a commitment to the event that we would be available for testing, so we showed up to fill the gap,” he said.
Dave Smith, who oversees vendor licensing for the city of Sturgis during the Rally, said the person listed as a contact for the COVID 19 testing was Bradley Kiefer of Kiefer Holdings LLC of Anchorage, Alaska.
McVay said business had been slow and all who had been tested so far tested negative for antibodies.
The test is not done on a machine, rather with a small cassette, somewhat like a pregnancy test. To conduct the antibody test for COVID-19, McVay takes a blood sample from a finger prick, places that blood on the cassette, adds a fixer or reagent and waits for the reaction to show the results.
“Our instructions say we get results within 10 minutes, but typically it’s about two or three minutes,” McVay said.
The antibody test being done at the Rally, which costs $45, isn’t checking for the virus itself. Instead, it looks to see whether your immune system — your body’s defense against illness — has responded to the infection.
The test looks for one or both kinds of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – the IgM antibodies, which happen early in an infection; and the IgG antibodies, which are more likely to show up later.
Sturgis Rally & Events Director Jerry Cole said some Rallygoers may use the COVID test to show employers that they are negative for COVID and not have to quarantine when they return to their home state.
McVay said they give people who are tested the testing cassette so they can go back and show a negative result.
The FDA, which oversees the regulation of the commercial tests, cautions that a negative result does not rule out a current SARS-CoV-2 infection, particularly in those who have been in recent contact with the virus. They suggest follow-up testing with a nasal swab to rule out infection in these individuals.
The FDA says results from antibody testing should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose or exclude SARS-CoV-2 infection or to inform infection status.
McVay admits that the nasopharyngeal swab and the antibody blood test each test for something different.
“It’s apples and oranges. We test for antibodies. If someone is infected, it takes three to seven days to start producing antibodies, so if it is prior to that window we will miss,” he said.
But if it is a week after they have been exposed to the coronavirus the antibody test can tell if the person has contracted the virus, McVay said.
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