October 25, 2020

Cayman: HSA leads national response to COVID-19 with further expansion of testing capabilities

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The Health Services Authority continues to lead the COVID-19 response as part of the Government’s national recovery plan with the further expansion of testing capabilities to include antibody testing and enhanced PCR capabilities with the new GeneXpert machine.

The GeneXpert machine will allow a faster turnaround time for the PCR testing of clinically urgent cases with results being available in just 45 minutes. This quicker turnaround time will be crucial for patients requiring urgent medical treatment for non COVID related illnesses.

“The introduction of the new GeneXpert machine will allow us to keep medically urgent tests separate from routine screening samples. The quick turnaround time is also vital for patients needing emergency treatment or emergency transfer abroad.” Dr Delroy Jefferson, Medical Director, Health Services Authority.

In addition to this, the HSA lab will now also be adding IgG antibody testing to its testing portfolio to better understand the effects of COVID-19 in the Cayman Islands.

“While the PCR method is currently the most accurate test available for active COVID-19 disease, the test does not identify whether someone has previously been infected with the virus. To answer this, the HSA will begin rolling out antibody testing this week as part of Public Health monitoring”. Dr Delroy Jefferson, Medical Director, Health Services Authority.

The antibody test can detect IgG responses in the blood indicating that the body has mounted an immune attack against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The presence of these antibodies can also indicate if a person has previously been infected with COVID-19.

HSA will be performing the antibody testing using the SARS-CoV-2 assay, developed by Abbott Laboratories and approved by Public Health England.

“The availability of antibody testing allows us to double our efforts for COVID-19 screening and give us a holistic view of the impact of COVID-19 in our community. Both PCR and antibody testing provide different functions in relation to COVID-19 so being able to use both tests simultaneously greatly enhances our efforts. However, it is important to note that the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibody does not necessarily mean that you are immune to COVID-19 and normal precautions to protect yourself from the virus should remain in place.” Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Medical Officer for Health.

Antibody testing will commence this week and will prioritise healthcare workers and individuals who previously tested positive for COVID-19 before being subject to a screening program being planned by Public Health.

“Antibody testing for the public will be rolled out to the wider public in a similar manner to the PCR screening program. Testing will be conducted across sample sized groups that will be nationally representative and give us a good indication on the level of infection in our community. The HSA will contact these sample groups for testing over the coming weeks”. Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Medical Officer for Health.

The Health Services Authority forensic lab was the first to introduce PCR testing in March 2020 to detect the presence of COVID-19. The lab currently averages 2000 tests per week and to date has tested 13,011 contributing to 84% of the national recovery plan in the Cayman Islands.

“Our laboratory and forensic teams have played an extraordinary role in the response to COVID-19. The expansion of our testing capabilities is a result of their hard work, dedication, and ability to continually improve our processes and knowledge of COVID-19. The GeneXpert machine and associated PCR cartridges were donated by the UK Government through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, following organisation by Public Health England. As always, we are grateful for their continued support and generosity”. Lizzette Yearwood, CEO, Health Services Authority.

About IGG Antibody Testing

  • Antibody testing, also known as serology tests detects antibodies in the blood caused by an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 virus
  • Antibodies start to develop in most patients 7-10 days after symptoms of COVID-19 begin and remain in the blood after the infection has passed.
  • Antibody tests of this kind involve a blood draw which can provide a result in 24-48 hours
  • The presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies is not a guarantee of immunity from future infections.
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