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Heflin to offer COVID-19 antibody tests for city workers

Rooks

Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks at a City Council meeting Tuesday. Rooks has asked state officials to grant Heflin a waiver from the Alabama's "safer at home" order.

HEFLIN — Beginning Monday all city of Heflin employees will be able to take the COVID-19 antibody test at a local clinic.

Rudy Rooks, Heflin mayor, floated the idea at Tuesday night’s City Council work session to get input from the council about having the city’s 30 employees tested.

The antibody test is a blood test which can indicate whether a person might have already had COVID-19 infection. That’s useful to know in tracking the prevalence of the disease in a community. 

     “I felt like it might be a good gesture for our employees if we offer to pay for that testing or at least pay for their copay if the insurance won’t pay for it,” said Rooks.   

Rooks said the total cost for the testing — which is not mandatory — would be about $2,000.

Southern Immediate Care, which has branches in Attalla, Anniston and Heflin started offering the antibody test earlier this week.  

According to Tonia Noles, practice director at the Heflin branch, the test involves a blood draw which is sent to LabCorp for testing.

Noles said it takes three to four days to get the results back. 

Southern Immediate Care started offering COVID-19 to the public testing in March.

Dr. Jason Junkins, owner of Southern Immediate Care, said there are two types of antibodies people develop in response to an infection, immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG).

“The early antibodies are IgM antibodies, those antibodies tell us if we are actually infected with something,” said Junkins.

After a person has been exposed to something, a second set of antibodies develops, called IgG, that is seen about five to seven days after exposure according to Junkins.

Junkins said that as the course progresses the IgM antibodies eventually disappear.

“There is a little bit of an overlap but while the IgM antibodies are going down you start developing IgG antibodies and when you develop those that shows you’ve had exposure to something,” said Junkins.

Junkins said that IgG antibodies show up after 14 days and IgM antibodies show up after seven days and peak at 14 days and disappear after 21 days. 

The doctor said that IgG antibodies peak at 28 days and stay elevated from then on.

A person could test negative for IgM antibodies for the first seven days even with symptoms of the coronavirus, according to Junkins, who added the nasal swab test is still the best during the first several days of infection. 

Junkins said a lot of people mistake IgG antibodies for immunity to the coronavirus.

“It could be that you’re immune and I don’t think they really know yet with coronavirus, but really all it means is that you’ve been exposed,” Junkins said.

Rooks said on Wednesday employees will have all week to go by and get tested.

“It will help build some confidence with our employees and I think that’s what a lot of folks in town now are wondering and worrying about,” Rooks said.

If an employee tests positive for the antibody, Rooks said, research will be done to see where that employee came in contact with the virus.

If an employee tests positive for the virus itself that employee will be quarantined for 14 days to see if any symptoms develop. 

During the Tuesday night council meeting, Kim Stone, city clerk, said city employees including police officers are getting no hazard pay during the pandemic and having a free antibody test is one way to show appreciation.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.

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