Blood Viles in Lab

Testing Program Identifies COVID-19 Antibodies In First Responders

Released June 19, 2020 12:34 PM
Voluntary antibody testing of the City of Alpharetta’s first responders found that 10 police officers and fire fighters have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, an indication that they have previously been exposed to the COVID-19 virus.  The positive antibody testing does not mean that the individuals currently have COVID-19; only that their bodies’ immune systems were triggered due to previous infection.

The 10 employees have subsequently undergone swab testing to determine if they currently have COVID-19, and none tested positive for infection.

“The safety of the public and our employees is always our primary concern, and we follow all of the protocols recommended by public health agencies to help identify employees who are symptomatic of possible COVID-19 infection and remove them from the workplace,” said Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin.  “Because some may contract COVID-19 but have very mild or even no symptoms, however, public health officials believe the disease may have infected more people and had a wider spread than is currently known.  We decided it was important to provide voluntary antibody testing to our first responders, an employee group that would be at highest risk for exposure to the virus, to better understand how the virus may have spread, learn how effective our protective protocols have been, and help plan for future pandemics.”

In May the City of Alpharetta became the first municipality in Georgia to provide COVID-19 antibody testing to first responders.  The program saw 127 of the City’s 192 police officers and fire fighters voluntarily undergo testing.

Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, are proteins that are produced by the immune system to help stop viruses from causing bodily harm.  When a viral infection begins, the body begins to produce IgM antibodies as a first line of defense.  The IgM antibodies attempt to slow the infection while the body identifies the virus and begins to develop IgG antibodies that overcome the virus and help to prevent future infection.

The City of Alpharetta’s antibody testing program found that 9 first responders tested positive for IgM antibodies.  One additional employee was confirmed to possess IgG antibodies.  The employees were notified of the test results and subsequently, underwent swab testing that determined none of them were currently infected with COVID-19.

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 situation, the City of Alpharetta moved quickly to implement the safety measures that were being recommended by the CDC and other public health agencies,” Gilvin said.  “Those measures clearly helped, but the data from the antibody testing may help to identify new ways of responding to future situations that result in even better outcomes and reduced infection rates.”

The data from Alpharetta’s testing program will become part of a global body of data being shared with researchers and public health officials for the purpose of better understanding COVID-19 and developing response plans for future pandemic events.