Antibody test suggests Tri-Cities woman may have had COVID-19 weeks before first local confirmed case


JOHNSON CITY, TENN (WJHL / WFXR) – A Tri-Cities woman believes she had COVID-19 weeks before health officials had confirmed any cases in Northeast Tennessee.

The reason?  She just got back results from a COVID-19 antibody test after enduring a mysterious illness.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment trip,” said Evelyn Hart who is still recovering from a sickness like she’s never experienced before. It started in early February during a trip to Germany to see family.

“A very, very cold but wonderful time,” she said.

While there, Evelyn thought she caught a cold.  But by late February, she was suffering from a non-stop violent cough.  

“There were days when I told my husband I want to give up and felt like I needed to be hospitalized because I couldn’t get a good breath,” she said.

But she didn’t have a fever.   So says two separate requests by her doctor for the health department to test for COVID-19 were rejected.

“The health department at that time because I didn’t have a fever said you don’t meet the criteria to be tested for COVID-19,” said Hart.

Two weeks ago, Evelyn said her doctor decided to test her blood for COVID-19 antibodies to see if she did have it after all.

“The antibody test did come back saying I positively had COVID-19 in the past,” she said. “Thank goodness the antibody testing did come out because now I know that yes – indeed I did have it.”

But there are questions about the reliability of some COVID-19 antibody tests.  Late last month, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said 10,000 health care workers will get antibody testing, but an April 27th “Question and Answer” statement from the Governor’s Office said antibody tests “can give patients false-positive results by detecting other types of coronaviruses, usually the kind that cause the common cold.”

“There are lots of different antibody tests some are a lot better than others,” said Dr. David Kirschke, medical director at the Northeast Regional Health Office.   “So it’s hard to interpret unless you can know the reliability of the actual test.”

Evelyn Hart’s electronic medical record results say the test she received doesn’t have FDA approval.

Still, she’s thankful to have the information. And she believes she’s proof of why people should wear cloth face coverings in public even if they don’t have a positive COVID-19 test result. She work a mask when she was out of the house, but she can’t help but wonder. “Did I infect anyone else with it in the community not knowing that I had COVID-19?”

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