SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said she hates needles, but she showed up anyway out of curiosity.

Pierucci on Friday went to Utah’s Capitol along with other Utah lawmakers and state employees to take a COVID-19 antibody test — a blood test meant to detect exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Wearing a mask, Pierucci lined up with dozens of other masked state lawmakers and staffers, bracing for the blood draw out of her arm. To her, a needle prick and a vial of blood would be worth it to know.

“I’m a data person, and if getting my antibodies test helps contribute to understanding what our population looks like, I’m happy to do it,” Pierucci said.

Plus, Pierucci said she had been sick at the very beginning of the Legislature’s general session, around late January.

“I don’t go down easy with colds, but it was a memorable one,” she said.

Around the same time — after attending Sundance, a film festival held in Park City that has been described as a “petri dish” for the virus — Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, came down with an illness, but he never knew he had been exposed to COVID-19 until he received an antibody test months later. He announced earlier this month that test came back positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Since then, many lawmakers expressed interest in also receiving the antibody test, according to Senate chief of staff Mark Thomas. So state officials organized Friday’s group antibody test, fully covered by the state’s health insurance provider PEHP. Medical workers from University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare drew vials of blood for the tests, and told lawmakers and staffers they would call them with their results in three to five days.

Shortly after the 45-day general session ended in mid-March, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, tested positive for COVID-19. She so far is the only Utah lawmaker to publicly disclose a positive COVID-19 test.

About 150 lawmakers and state employees participated in Friday’s testing conducted from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., according to House chief of staff Abby Osborne. Citing health privacy issues, state officials did not report how many out of Utah’s 75 House representatives and 29 senators took advantage of the antibody testing.

Some lawmakers showed up wearing sweat pants and casual wear after spending all day working for Thursday’s special session, most wearing masks. Legislative employees, office staff, and Utah Highway Patrol officers also lined up for the antibody test. They walked away with bandages on their arms.

The Deseret News spoke to several lawmakers, including Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, who got sick at one point over the last several months and wondered if they could have possibly been exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re still learning a lot about the disease,” Kitchen said. “And so I think, whether or not antibodies actually protect you is still to be determined, but I would like to know.”

The more data the better, Kitchen said, and that’s why he thinks every insurance provider in Utah should provide free antibody testing to Utahns. Some Utahns can access the antibody test for free, but others require a $70 payment.

Kitchen hopes if more Utahns take the antibody test, it will help long-term understanding of the virus and help move the state toward a smart reopening.

“As we reopen our economy I think that the more people understand whether or not they had it in the past and how their body responds to it will help them determine their own boundaries of leaving the home and getting back to work,” Kitchen said. “So this is a good thing to know and I encourage everybody in the community to do it.”

House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, also took an antibody test “just out of curiosity.” He hasn’t been sick, but COVID-19 could possibly be carried by asymptomatic individuals.

“I think everybody ought to get tested,” he said. “It’s helpful to know as we try and reopen the economy and get things going again and get back to a somewhat normal life. We know we can’t stay home, stay safe forever.”

Schultz said he, too, thinks every insurance company should cover the antibody test, adding that “maybe that’s a conversation” the Utah Legislature should have, depending on if the antibody tests are found to be fairly accurate and if insurance companies don’t choose to do it on their own.

“We have got to do more testing,” he said. “The more tests we do, the more information we get to people, that’s what’s going to help make decisions.”

The accuracy and usefulness of antibody testing (particularly whether the presence of antibodies means immunity to the virus) is still under study — but lawmakers who spoke to the Deseret News said it could be useful information to better understand the virus, its rate of spread, and paint a more holistic picture of how the virus has affected Utahns. Not to mention address uncertainty.

“It could bring some peace to people’s lives,” Pierucci said. “And we still don’t have a lot of data about what we want to do moving forward.”

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, also showed up for an antibody test, saying he thinks all lawmakers were “potentially” exposed during the 2020 general session. He noted he was also pretty sick at the beginning of the session for about 10 days, and his daughter, who is an emergency room nurse, tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. She doesn’t live with him, he said, but visits often for dinners.

“I’m kind of curious,” Ray said. “At the time I just thought it was a cold.”

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Ray said he worked through the illness at the beginning of the session, keeping to his office most of the time.

Ray, who wasn’t wearing a mask, told the Deseret News the results of his antibody test won’t change his behavior one way or another. He sometimes wears a mask when he’s in big crowds or around high-risk populations, he said, but not all the time he’s in public.

“It would just be nice to know that I personally don’t have to worry,” he said.

Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections and usually provide immunity against getting that disease again, but because COVID-19 is so new and is still under study, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website, “We do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 can protect someone from getting infected again or, if they do, how long this protection might last.”

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