Columbia County employees, including educators and those employed by the Columbia County Board of Education, will be some of the first in the area to receive an antibody test, thanks to a partnership between the Columbia County Commission and Augusta University Health to learn more about when the virus first established itself in the local area.
The tests will be made available on a voluntary basis as part of a research study led by Dr. Jose Vazquez, Chief of the Section of Infectious Disease at the Medical College of Georgia, to help determine how many Columbia County employees have previously been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and have developed antibodies against it.
“We all want to answer a question: Was the unusual respiratory illness that we experienced this fall and winter actually COVID-19?” said Dr. Phillip Coule, vice president and chief medical officer at AU Health. “By studying the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies of emergency services workers and school teachers, we should be able to get a good indication of how many people have already had COVID-19.”
The health system announced last week it would offer a new antibody test specifically for SARS-coV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and would begin testing inpatients before making the test more widely available.
Coule said critical infrastructure workers such as educators and emergency services personnel are at higher risk for exposure and should provide better information about how to safely open businesses.
“It is entirely possible that the unusual respiratory season we had last year was COVID-19 or that many more people have had the disease than we previously thought,” Vazquez said. “We know that young people tend to have minimal symptoms and come into close contact with teachers. Testing the teachers will give us an idea of exposure from their students.”
AU Health CEO Katrina Keefer said she is appreciative for the partnership with the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, which includes previous screening and testing initiatives.
“As part of our continued partnership with Columbia County, we want to support the county leaders’ request to support an antibody study of their critical infrastructure workers that may be at greatest risk for exposure,” she said. “Many residents have already utilized the AU Health ExpressCare app virtual screening tool and accessed the Patriots Park drive-thru testing. We are pleased to continue to support the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Columbia County in this new way.”
Columbia County Commission Chair Doug Duncan said he has been working with AU Health leadership and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office for some time to get this initiative off the ground. The county will fund the study and plans to use the data collected to determine the percentage of the population that has already been infected.
“I am excited about the partnership with Augusta University,” he said. “I am optimistic that this testing will provide a greater understanding of the true impact of this virus in our community.”