Key health committee senators urge making COVID-19 antibodies test free for everyone

Coronavirus News Graphic

Senators Roy Blunt and Lamar Alexander, chairmen of the two Senate committees responsible for health policy and spending said, “Health professionals agree that Americans who have had the disease are almost certainly immune for a time and can go back to work and back to school without contracting the disease again or exposing others. Free tests will help contain the disease and give Americans confidence that it is safe to go back to work and back to school and restart the economy.”

The senators said the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, enacted two weeks ago, specifically allows free tests for every American to determine whether they currently have COVID-19. They said the law also gives Secretary Azar the authority to make a second kind of test free that will determine whether someone has had the disease and therefore is likely immune, at least for a short time. Last Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first such antibodies test and expects additional tests to detect antibodies to be developed and available for patients. Soon, antibody tests will be available at a local pharmacy or a doctor’s office and only require a pinprick of blood from your finger.

Scientists estimate that somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of Americans who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Tests to determine whether an individual has had the disease—in addition to tests to diagnose those who are sick—will make it easier to decide when Americans can go back to work or back to school, the senators said.

“We are dealing not just with a medical issue here,” the senators said. “We are dealing with an issue of confidence. For weeks, Americans have watched 24/7 news coverage of the dangers of COVID-19. Even if the government says you can go back to work and back to school, many Americans may be reluctant to leave their homes. The availability of two types of free tests—one, a diagnostic test to determine if you have COVID-19, and two, an antibodies test to determine whether you have had it and are likely immune, at least for the short term—will give Americans confidence that it is safe to go back to work and to school and restart the economy.”

The senators said the government’s goal should be to have available tens of millions of both kinds of tests as soon as possible, at least by August, when students return to 6,000 colleges and 100,000 public schools. “This is about testing. Americans may not be willing to go back to work or back to 6,000 colleges and 100,000 schools unless they know that they, and many of their classmates or fellow workers, don’t have the virus.”

The senators said, “There is no scientific barrier to these tests. The barrier is using American ingenuity to scale up production and flooding the country with millions of tests to help contain the disease and build confidence that we can safely leave our homes and restart the economy.”

Blunt is chairman of the Senate’s health appropriations committee. Alexander is chairman of the Senate’s health committee.