A key element in finding the path forward against the coronavirus is soon to arrive.
Dr. Anthony Fauci stated on Friday that a “large number” of SARs-CoV-2 antibody tests are set to become available “very soon.”
The key to recovery
Right now, the vast majority of tests currently administered are done to determine if a person is currently infected by the virus, and most are only conducted on individuals that are showing serious symptoms. This information is vital, but it is also very important to find out who has already had the virus and has recovered without ever receiving an official COVID-19 diagnosis.
Several companies have rushed through the process of developing tests that will determine if an individual has developed antibodies to the virus, which would indicate that they’ve developed some immunity to the virus without experiencing symptoms.
Once these antibody tests are widely conducted, we will get a much better idea of just how long the virus has spread throughout the states undetected, as well as determining what the true mortality rate of the virus is.
Dr. Fauci stated that it’s “likely, though we need to prove it” that if a person carries the antibodies, they’re “very likely” protected from re-infection.
“Which means you may have a cohort of people who are actually protected who have more of [a] chance [at] getting back into normal society,” Fauci explained. “It’s very important to know that regarding health care workers because they are the most vulnerable, and if they’re protected, they can do their job much better.”
Antibody test programs
Fauci expressed optimism that a widespread antibody testing campaign could be launched within days. “We are told by the people, the companies that make them that very soon — when they say soon, they’re talking days to weeks — that we’d be able to have a large number of these tests available,” Fauci said.
Some areas are already implementing antibody testing programs, such as the Chicago Department of Health. The Chicago Tribune reported that the agency has begun testing a limited number of individuals, but the city’s health commissioner hopes to expand the program in the coming weeks.
The New York State Department of Public Health has enacted a similar program, pumping out some 2,000 antibody tests per day to determine whether enough people have been infected with the virus to establish herd immunity.
Dr. Neeraj Sood, lead researcher at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy, is leading a team conducting tests in Los Angeles County to attempt to understand how widespread infections are in the city.
Sood explained the importance of doing antibody tests: “If we find out COVID is far less deadly than the flu, we can open up the economy. You don’t need to hit herd immunity to open it up. But if you find out that COVID is 10 times deadlier than the flu, then you have to keep it closed.”