Mid-South lab reaches milestone in work to develop new coronavirus antibody testing

WATCH: Mid-South lab reaches milestone in work to develop new coronavirus antibody testing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An important milestone has been reached in finding out how many people in Shelby County may have the antibodies to protect themselves from catching COVID-19 a second time.

FOX13 showed you in May how scientists at UT Health Science Center are working to perfect a test for antibodies. Now we have learned the lab is testing some people in Shelby County who either contracted or were exposed to the virus.

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The Shelby County Public Health Department could use that information to help decide if some of the pandemic restrictions can be relaxed.

“Right now, we are looking at people who recovered from COVID-19,” said Dr. Maria Gomes-Solecki.

Dr. Maria Gomes-Solecki conducts research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She said her team of scientists and researchers have entered a new phase in the testing of COVID-19 antibodies. The goal is to produce an accurate test that would help local officials decide the risk to emergency and medical front line employees.

“Theoretically these people should be immune to COVID-19, right? They should be protected like a vaccine,” Dr. Gomes-Solecki told FOX13.

Finding out how many people living in Shelby County are in that category would help stop the spread of the virus.

“The more people that have it, the more people in the community are protected from this disease and that is called herd immunity,” said Gomes-Solecki.

If the antibodies are strong enough, will the people who recovered be able to skip getting the vaccine when one becomes available?

Those are questions that could be answered using the test results from Gomes-Solecki' s team and other research projects around the country.

“We are not cutting corners. We are working as swiftly as we can but it just takes time,” Gomes-Solecki said.

Until that time comes, health experts recommend everyone wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash their hands often.

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