A severe case of flu went the rounds in the CNMI in December last year and many are now wondering if it were already COVID-19 infections that did not manifest fully. Which now raises the question: Will antibody test kits be also made available in the CNMI, on top of the mass testing that’s already taking place?
The quick response to that is, no, antibody testing is not yet recommended in the CNMI, at least at this time, according to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Esther Muña.
Speaking yesterday as one of the guests during a “virtual” general membership meeting of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Muña said, “There are ongoing studies about it and, so far what has been given by the ‘emergency use authorization’ (an authority granted to the Food and Drug Administration), antibody tests kits are not 100% accurate,” she said.
Antibody test kits check if someone was recently infected by COVID-19 after they have recovered from the disease and recognizes COVID-19 antibodies in your blood, guaranteeing zero reinfection.
Muña said that requiring people to undergo antibody testing to check if they are immune to COVID-19 infection or that they already had it can be “problematic” in terms of public health.
“According to the findings of the FDA, antibody testing have 50% to 75% accuracy level. …So at this point, we can use it but it has to be done usually in consultation with the medical staff. Right now, the…[COVID-19 test kits available in the CNMI] are actually useful for us right now because they look for current infections,” she added.
The meeting, which happened online after two months of hiatus due to COVID-19 concerns, also featured Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who told the business community that in the event that CHCC and the COVID-19 Task Force needs antibody test kits, it can be something that the CNMI can do moving forward. “We know the importance of having test kits here. Do community-base testing and this is the route that we want to do first,” he said. “I’m sure that [antibody test kits] is a route moving forward but we need to know first what is available out there and source that out,” he said.
He said the decision to acquire COVID-19 test kits a couple of months ago was borne out of his partnership with Muña and COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez.
The CNMI is currently under community vulnerability scale Yellow, which eased many restrictions, allowing restaurants to partially open, shortening curfew hours from 11pm to 5am and extending business hours from 5am to 10pm.
According to Torres, he has been working with the Governor’s COVID-19 Economic Task Force, the Marianas Visitors Authority, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and business leaders in the CNMI in outlining and identifying the economic recovery plan for the CNMI.
“We are now working to get to ‘Code Blue,’ with the support of the business people and employers encouraging all employees to get tested and get a certification for their business to open,” he said
Torres said that the CNMI’s current Yellow status “is a strong statement about our tourism industry that tourist and visitors will be happy about. When they come here knowing that employees in establishments have been tested, it makes the work environment and them stay safer.”