North Texas family practice group to begin testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19

A North Texas family practice group plans to start testing people who may think they have COVID-19 but haven't shown symptoms or have recovered from mild symptoms.

The group plans to administer antibody tests, but the process of rolling them out to the public has been frustrating.

There has been a lot of focus on the test to know if you have COVID-19, but a group of local clinics wants to do more. They say that means focusing on the population that’s asymptomatic but may still be spreading the disease.

Metroplex Medical Centres, with offices in Dallas and Fort Worth, says staff has grown frustrated with up to two-week wait times for COVID-19 PCR test results, leaving in limbo the patient and those who may have come into contact with them.

The group ordered 2,000 antibody blood tests from a Chinese lab that can determine if a person has been previously exposed and is building up immunity.

Physician Assistant and CEO Sneha Patel says she’s called local, state, and federal health officials for guidance, but she hasn’t heard much.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get many callbacks. But I did speak to someone at the FDA, and she said to do what’s best for your patient,” Patel said. “It’s scary because without that validation that says go for it, there may be a lot of liability that comes out of it as well. But for us, it’s really about giving back to the community. Time is not on our side, and we can’t keep waiting for it to go through the proper channels.”

Last week, the FDA approved a different antibody test to be used without full approval. Patel points to the FDA website which addresses other antibody tests as well, saying it will not object to use of other tests by certain companies listed on the site.

Like the drive-through clinics that have popped up for the COVID-19 PCR test, Patel says they’d like to offer antibody tests the same way. This test offers results in minutes.

“It’s a little finger stick. We put a drop of blood on the tester. And then within 15 minutes, we would know if the patient has IGG or IGM response,” Patel said. “Antibodies are like proteins. So it will tell us if the patient is currently having COVID-19 or if they had it maybe two or three weeks ago.”

Patel acknowledges antibody tests aren’t perfect. She says there’s a false negative rate, meaning some people may have been exposed but haven’t had time to build antibodies. She says the test should not give patients a false sense of security if they do have antibodies since we still don’t know for sure if that means they’re immune or for how long.

However, Patel still she says she believes it is a test vital and worth doing. She plans to offer it in about two weeks for $20.

FOX 4 reached out to the FDA for clarification, but we have yet to receive a response.

A spokesperson for the Dallas County Health Department says there could be legal restraints to use it, but it did not specify what those might be.