Phoenix first responders to take COVID-19 antibody tests

Nearly 5,000 Phoenix-area police officers, firefighters and other first responders will be able to take coronavirus antibody testing for the first time starting April 27, according to a statement from the United Phoenix Firefighters Association.

The testing "will offer some much needed and unprecedented insight into the exposure of first responders across the Valley to COVID-19," acording to the statement.

The local firefighter's association, along with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association are offering their members the antibody testing through funding from Phoenix Suns Charities and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

The tests, administered by the Vincere Cancer Center, are supposed to show results in under 15 minutes. 

"It’s really important. I have a wife and a four-year-old. It’s really important for my home life and work life as well," said Phoenix Firefighter Nathan Marmor. He thought he may have had COVID-19 back in December, when he got really sick and had a persistent cough. As it turns out, Marmor did not have COVID-19.


A total of 5,000 Phoenix first responders are expected to get the antibody test.

"This test has a 98% specificity," said Dr. Vershalee Shukla. "If you test negative, it's very highly likely you are negative. The sensitivity is 85%. Still a 15% chance that you may have had the infection, but we don’t know."

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu.

Dr. Shukla said after testing about 200 firefighters on Monday morning, five came back positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

"That's also good, because it shows we're being responsible. Firefighters are wearing their Personal Protective Gear," said Dr. Shukla.

Dr. Shukla hopes to test first responders in Phoenix again in three months, and again in six months.

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

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