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Pharmacist says she was surprised by response to Facebook post

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FARMINGTON — A local pharmacy could begin offering COVID-19 antibody tests soon, after it received a positive response to a social media post designed to gauge public interest in the availability of such testing.

Dr. Ashley Seyfarth, a pharmacist and owner of the Kare Drug locations in Aztec and Bloomfield, said she wasn't sure what kind of feedback she would receive from those who viewed a video she posted on April 28 on the Kare Drug Facebook page. In the video, Seyfarth explains that if there were enough people interested, she would pursue purchasing testing kits that reveal whether the person being tested has been exposed to the virus in the past.

In the video, Seyfarth carefully explains that the testing would not be free and that it would not be covered by insurance. Anyone wishing to take the test would be required to cover its cost, which she estimated at between $80 and $100. Considering the financial hardship so many people are facing because of the economic shutdown, Seyfarth said she had no idea how many people would be interested in taking the test under those circumstances.

"Oh, my gosh," she said, describing her surprise at how many people contacted the pharmacy over the next few days to put their name on a list for testing if and when it became available. That list now includes approximately 200 names, she said. In addition, two companies have reached out to Seyfarth in the last few days to secure testing for their employees, which she estimated would add another 100 names to the list.

Convinced by that there is indeed a strong market for COVID-19 antibody testing, Seyfarth has worked out a deal with a lab to secure the purchase of 500 test kits. And the good news is, their price is about half of what she initially expected, meaning that as soon as it receives approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Kare Drug will be able to order the kits and begin offering the tests for $40 to $50.

"There's a good chance we'll have a lot better response (at that price) than if we had to charge $80 or $100," Seyfarth said. "That's a good thing. That's what we've been working toward."

Seyfarth emphasized that the test is not intended for anyone who thinks they currently have the virus. It is designed to let the subject know if they have been exposed to the virus in the past and if they are producing antibodies that resist its spread.

"We are not testing for active symptoms," she said. "We're looking for those who think they've already had it."

Seyfarth said she has heard from a lot of people who believe they may have contracted the virus weeks ago but were never tested for it. She believes there are many others who have contracted it but never displayed any symptoms.

It would be helpful — both to those individuals being tested and to those who are fighting the virus — if a more accurate picture of the virus' transmission rate were to emerge, she said.

"It would be interesting to see if a lot of people come back positive," she said.

Seyfarth emphasized repeatedly that a positive test result for the presence of the virus antibodies does not mean a person is immune from COVID-19.

"We don't know the secondary rate of infection," she said, explaining that, unlike the seasonal flu, not enough data exists to support a firm contention that anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 need not worry about coming down with it again for a while.

"I think that could give some false hope," she said.

But the presence of the antibodies could mean the person is better positioned to ward off the virus if she or he is exposed to it again. And if a significant number of people are found to have a positive test result, that is perhaps the first step in achieving herd immunity, Seyfarth said, which would allow for a greater reopening of society.

Seyfarth said the test requires only a few minutes to take and involves a finger stick. Results will be available within 10 to 20 minutes.

She was still awaiting final approval from the FDA on May 6. When she gets the go-ahead, Seyfarth said she will begin offering the testing at both Kare Drug locations.

Those who already have signed up will be contacted by the pharmacy and will be offered the chance to take the test, probably on a certain date with times staggered depending on the first letter of a person's last name to avoid the formation of a crowd. If there are any tests left by the time Seyfarth and her crew work their way through the list, they will be offered to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. She expects there to have takers for all the kits.

Seyfarth said she researched the lab she is dealing with thoroughly, and she is convinced the tests will produce a reliable finding — unlike many other disreputable tests that have surfaced in recent weeks.

"They're very accurate, she said, estimating that figure at 98 to 99 percent.

Kare Drug in Aztec can be reached at 505-334-6411. Kare Drug in Bloomfield can be reached at 505-632-3324.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.

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