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Berkshire Health Systems launches COVID-19 antibody testing - with doctor's order

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Health Systems has begun providing COVID-19 antibody testing in the community for patients with a physician's order.

In an email statement released Friday, the organization, which owns Berkshire Medical Center, said the blood test will help residents to know if they have had the disease at some point in the past. But it stressed a positive test does not ensure immunity from the virus.

"We believe this will be important in the long run to help determine what percentage of the Berkshire population may have had COVID-19, with many people likely having contracted the virus but did not develop serious, or in some cases, any symptoms," said Dr. James Lederer, chief medical officer and chief quality officer for BHS, in the release. "Unfortunately, at this early stage of antibody testing nationwide, the test will not answer some key questions the public may have, including whether they have any immunity as a result of a positive antibody test. It may be some time before we know if there is immunity, and the longevity of that immunity."

Interested residents can ask their primary care physician to submit an order to the BHS Laboratory for a test to be drawn at a BHS blood draw station, according to the release. The result will then be provided to the physician, who will relay the result to the patient.

"As we face the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the upcoming fall and winter months, this testing may help us to better understand how widespread the virus was locally in this first phase," said Dr. Jessica Krochmal, BHS chair of pathology. "The test itself is a simple blood draw with a fairly fast turnaround, so that we can inform the primary care physician who ordered the test in a short timeframe."

Patients accessing the antibody testing will be responsible for any co-pays, deductibles or self-pay required by their health insurer, and if they have questions regarding whether insurance will pay for the test should contact their insurance provider.

In Berkshire County, to date, nearly 8,500 people have been tested for COVID-19 through a nasal swab test that determines if the individual has the virus at that time, and of that number, just over 500 have been positive, according to the release. The antibody test will tell the patient, who may have had no symptoms or might at some point earlier this year have had respiratory illness whether they had COVID-19 from an historical perspective.

"We would stress that those who test positive for antibodies understand that this does not mean they are immune going forward," Lederer said. "People should continue to follow all of the precautions put in place across Massachusetts and locally to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and masking where required."

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