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Nevada regulators halt rapid testing for COVID-19, antibodies

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday halted two Las Vegas operations providing rapid tests for COVID-19 antibodies as well as the virus itself.

Sahara West Urgent Care & Wellness, which has been providing drive-thru nasal swab testing for the virus since early in the outbreak, confirmed that a state regulator had halted the rapid testing it had begun last week.

The other operation, Cura Telehealth, launched its drive-thru testing in the parking lot of a medical facility in the northwest valley Tuesday morning. Both operations were offering a blood test for antibodies that promises fast turnaround times, as well as a separate rapid test for the virus itself.

Sahara West spokesman Andrew Mann said the clinic sought guidance early on from state regulators.

“We haven’t got much help or clarity from anyone,” he said. “And now they’re telling us to stop. Now the state’s going to set up their regulatory framework to make this happen. Who knows how long that’s going to take?”

Health department representatives could not be reached for comment.

‘Kind of ridiculous’

The two operations represent early efforts in the Las Vegas area to test for antibodies, proteins in the immune system that signal a person has been exposed to the virus and developed some immunity to it.

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved an antibody test for the new coronavirus, but in light of the public health emergency, it has allowed companies to manufacture and distribute tests.

Mann said a state officer cited a need for employees to take a training course and stated requirements for proper licensing.

“It’s kind of ridiculous,” he said. “The whole point of the FDA fast-tracking this was to get this going.”

Cura Telehealth planned to launch testing in seven states Tuesday. Dr. Clinton Baird, its CEO, acknowledged that his operation was unprepared for the volume of customers it attracted Tuesday.

“We’re getting really overwhelmed in the Las Vegas market,” Baird said in a midday interview. “I hope people will be patient.”

In the early afternoon, dozens of cars were lined up outside the Post Acute Medical facility on Tenaya Way, with some of their occupants saying they’d been waiting for hours for testing.

By midafternoon, the licensed nurse practitioner overseeing testing had quit, Baird later confirmed, saying the person appeared “overwhelmed.” After consulting with the state, the operation was halted because it couldn’t lawfully continue with only physician assistants present, he said.

‘Overwhelming demand’

Public health authorities have said the antibody testing could be an important weapon in the fight against the coronavirus and in returning normalcy to people’s lives.

“As we get to the point of at least considering opening up the country … it’s very important to appreciate and to understand how much that virus has penetrated the society,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told CNN.

Fauci said that many people likely were exposed to the virus but never developed symptoms. Knowing they had developed antibodies could be important in assessing risk for health care workers and others he described as “first-line fighters.”

Mann said that health care workers have been streaming to the urgent care facility to receive antibody testing.

“There’s this overwhelming demand to have this, and the state is shutting it down,” he said.

Baird said that testing positive for antibodies also could help get people safely back to work.

However, questions have been raised nationwide about the quality of some of the tests that have been developed, among other concerns.

There is evidence that some antibody tests have “cross reactivity” with other types of coronaviruses, such as those for the common cold, said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, medical investigator for the Southern Nevada Health District.

“So you see that you test positive, and you think it’s because you had COVID,” when instead the individual had another type of coronavirus, he said. Even with the COVID-19 antibodies, “We still don’t really have a good sense of whether this provides long-term immunity.

“So I think some of those things need to be answered before we started doing mass testing.”

Representatives of Sahara West and Cura Telehealth said it was unclear when they would restart the rapid testing.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal photo intern Ellen Schmidt contributed to this report.

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