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Drive-through and walk-in coronavirus antibody testing launches in Santa Ana

UC Irvine and Latino Health Access staff
UC Irvine and Latino Health Access staff are on-site administering free antibody testing at Valley High School from Dec. 8 to Dec. 12 and Saddleback High School from Dec. 15 to Dec. 19.
(Courtesy of Latino Health Access)

In an effort to trace the coronavirus throughout Orange County, UC Irvine launched antibody testing at 11 sites last summer, but a new effort through Dec. 19 is exclusively focused on Santa Ana, one of the cities most affected by the pandemic.

UC Irvine, Latino Health Access and Santa Ana officials are partnering on antibody testing to determine exposure throughout the city.

Drive-through and walk-in testing involves a questionnaire and a finger-prick blood sample that is sent to a UCI lab where about 12 different coronavirus antibodies as well as four other related viruses are tested. Participants can receive results in a week or two.

Antibody testing determines whether a person was infected with the coronavirus in the past and developed antibodies against it.

Daniel M. Parker, UCI assistant professor and antibody research team member, said the misconception that scares him the most is that people might assume that they are bulletproof and change their behavior after getting their results. Antibody testing doesn’t determine whether a person is immune to infection.

“The real use for [antibody testing] is at a population level to know what the burden has been and the patterns — is it more common in working-age adult males or more common in females?” Parker said. “Using that information, we can tailor the public health outreach efforts.”

The goal is to get a close-up picture of what’s going on within Santa Ana households.

In the summer, UC Irvine collaborated with the Orange County Health Care Agency to administer antibody testing throughout O.C. at the 11 sites. The purpose was to research age groups, races, ethnicities and economic factors to be representative of the entire county.

About 3,000 people participated in the testing, and researchers found that the county underestimated the number of cases and working-class Latino communities were bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

In the new study, UC Irvine randomly selected Santa Ana households to participate, but the testing sites are also open to Santa Ana residents ages 5 years and older.

About 140 people showed up on Dec. 5, the first day of testing. As of Tuesday night, researchers collected about 300 antibody testing samples. Researchers are prepared to test up to 8,000 people.

Latino Health Access staff took over community outreach and are currently working on antibody testing sites located in high schools.

“They’ve been instrumental at community outreach ... without people knowing what’s going on and having some kind of rapport and trust, then you’re not going to get good participation,” Parker said.

The Santa Ana-based nonprofit, which opened its doors in 1993, partnered with local city officials, school districts, the county health agency and other healthcare nonprofits in a “Latino Health Equity Initiative” COVID-19 response earlier in this year.

Over the summer, the nonprofit hired new staff to provide testing, outreach, education and referral services. It has used a “promotora” model, or a community peer outreach model, to get critical information and advocacy into working-class neighborhoods like Santa Ana, Anaheim and San Juan Capistrano.

“The intention is to educate and invite. It’s not easy to keep up with coronavirus news. All research is an ongoing progress,” Karen Sarabia, Latino Health Access program associate, said.

Staff, equipped with PPE, went into the community in person to discuss and leave information about antibody testing sites in grocery stores, schools, churches, laundromats and other businesses. They’ve also made phone calls to households.

“I hope that people understand that it’s an important study in providing more details about a portion of the population that is most affected and how the body is responding to the virus,” Francisca Leal, Latino Health Access program coordinator, said.

If you go

What: COVID-19 Antibody Testing

When: Dec. 8 to Dec. 12 and Dec. 15 to Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m

Where: Valley High School and Saddleback High School (locations vary per week)

Cost: Free

Info: santa-ana.org/covid19/antibody-testing

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