WEST CHESTER (April 28, 2020) – The Pennsylvania Senate Health and Human Services Committee today unanimously approved Senate Bill 1123, legislation sponsored by State Senator Andy Dinniman to support the efforts of Chester County and other counties across Pennsylvania to initiate antibody, point-of-contact testing.
The bill received bipartisan support and was backed by the Chester County Senate delegation, including state Senators Tom Killion, Katie Muth, and Tim Kearney.
It requires the Pennsylvania Department of Health to support the anti-body testing efforts of Chester and other counties.
“In the face of this unprecedented public health crisis, the state, federal and local government must work together to protect residents and provide for increased COVID-19 testing,” Dinniman said. “Unfortunately, right now that is not happening. We need to cut through bureaucratic obstacles that are needlessly holding up testing in Chester and other counties, and Senate Bill 1123 accomplishes this.”
Antibody testing provides more immediate results for those who may have already had COVID-19, which is crucial because not everyone displays symptoms. Dinniman said he has been working with Chester County officials to deploy the tests and alleviate concerns with healthcare workers and first responders.
He noted that several states and counties across the country were already using antibody tests. For example, Arizona is using antibody tests for 250,000 health care workers and first responders.
“These tests would add an extra layer of protection for our emergency first responders and other frontline workers who are already putting their health and safety on the line,” Dinniman said. “They are not meant to replace existing testing, but to supplement them where they’re not widely available and where results take too long. The tests can help detect the virus in those who may be asymptotic but have its antibodies.”
In the immediate response to the pandemic, the Chester County Health Department reviewed antibody tests as an option for first responders and frontline workers. County officials received approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Health in late March and subsequently worked with a Chester County-based company to acquire thousands of tests. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health put major barriers in the way. Despite strong pleas from Dinniman and county officials to the department and administration, these barriers remain.
“No tests are perfect, but in the absence of widespread testing, the Chester County Commissioners and the county health department deserve credit for leading the Commonwealth in providing antibody testing,” Dinniman said. “They did their due diligence to review appropriate tests and selected a company that happened to be based in Chester County.”
On Tuesday, Dinniman raised the issue of the lack of testing at both the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearings. The policy committee hearing was focused on essential frontline workers and first responders. Several testifiers agreed with Dinniman’s assessment.
“There still seems to be a significant lag in getting the tests back. If we’re seeing that on the first responder side, we can only imagine what’s happening in the general public,” Ralph Sicuro, President of the Pittsburgh Fire Fighters, IAFF Local No. 1, said. “Antibody testing is something that should also be available to our people to make sure that when we’re doing our job, we’re not getting infected, and if we’re asymptomatic, we’re not giving it to others.”
The tests in question were developed by a regional biopharma company, which had point-of-contact tests with results in 15-20 minutes. The antibody test was tested for validity by LabCorp, a leading global clinical laboratory, and had a validity of 97%.
“If we are all in this together, the state needs to respect, learn from, and coordinate its COVID-19 testing efforts with local counties, and their health departments. That’s what my bill Senate Bill 1123 is all about,” Dinniman said.