The Mobile City Council, on Tuesday, delayed payment on 3,000 COVID-19 blood tests, citing issues with accuracy of the kits used to detect virus antibodies.
While Mayor Sandy Stimpson confirmed the tests had already been deployed, councilors decided to delay payment of $36,000 to DocRX based upon concerns from constituents within the medical community over the “high” false negative rate of the rapid serum tests.
“I’ve heard some concerns over the validity of those tests,” Councilwoman Bess Rich said during a virtual pre-conference meeting. “We need more information. Residents are concerned they’re not (Food and Drug Administration) approved and have a false negative rate of about 20 percent.”
Rich questioned the wisdom of spending money on the tests, when there are other needs, like personal protective equipment and masks for both medical personnel and possibly retailers, once the city and state open back up.
Councilman Fred Richardson and Council President Levon Manzie also said they had heard from members of the medical community with doubts about the efficacy of the tests meant to test for the presence of antibodies in the blood. The presence of antibodies signals that a patient’s body either is currently fighting off the disease or already has fought it off.
Richardson asked if the city was also purchasing the more effective nasal swab tests. City Attorney Ricardo Woods said area hospitals and testing sites are using the swab tests, but those are distributed directly to hospitals and clinics and the city doesn’t need to purchase them.
“I don’t want anybody to think we’re not using the (nasal swab) tests,” Woods said.
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber defended purchasing the blood tests, saying they were an effective screening tool and had helped the city and local hospitals remove asymptomatic carriers of the virus from contact with the public.
“IF antibodies are present, we go to the PCR (nasal swab) test,” Barber said. “We’ve been able to remove police, firefighters and medical personnel who were asymptomatic. If we didn’t have antibody tests we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
USA Health University Hospital continues to test pre-screened members of the public at a COVID-19 testing site at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The screening process includes a series of questions to determine whether a patient needs to be tested. The hospitals are not yet prepared for mass testing because capacity at laboratories nationwide is not where it needs to be, Barber said.
For instance, Barber said, local Synergy Laboratories in Theodore can process roughly 800 tests per day. That is expected to go up to 2,000 per day by mid-May, he said.
“When we talk about mass testing, the capacity is not there yet,” Barber said. “A lot of what we did with the lockdowns was to slow down the virus to help increase capacity.”
In other business, councilors delayed hearing an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to deny increased occupancy at the property at 401 Dauphin Street to Tuesday, May 12. Owner Buzz Jordan wants to turn the building into a music venue, but it has been a controversial move among neighbors in the area.
The council is expected to begin reconvening in-person meetings next week.
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