One of the biggest questions facing US officials is just how many people have COVID-19 antibodies or immunity to the disease. Two research teams and an army of volunteers in California have been conducting tests to answer these questions. It appears there may be way more cases, more antibodies and more immunity than anyone ever expected.
In the first large-scale test in Santa Clara County, researchers tested 3,300 people and found that between 2.5-4.2% of them tested positive for antibodies. Those numbers led researches to equate that in the county, which has a population of 2 million, that nearly 48,000-81,000 people have the antibodies and had the virus already. Santa Clara County official data at the time of the test showed just 1000 cases.
Dr. Eran Bendavid, the associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, led the study and told ABC’s Diane Sawyer “Our findings suggest that there is somewhere between 50- and 80-fold more infections in our county than what’s known by the number of cases than are reported by our department of public health,”
Volunteers were recruited at random through social media ads online, and were tested by a finger prick at 3 testing sites throughout the county.
Dr. John Brownstein, Boston Children’s Hospital epidemiologist told ABC “There has been wide recognition that we were under-counting infections because of lack of testing or patients were asymptomatic”
Although the research shows much larger antibodies and immunity, it is unknown how long the immunity will last or if they will begin to show symptoms. It is noted that over 95% of the population is without antibodies or immunity.
Although a small sample of testing in California doesn’t necessarily represent the whole country directly, based on the results of the sample, the US could have upwards of 14 million people with antibodies who have already had the virus. Even if it’s half that, it’s still 7 million more cases than officially recorded.
With California being closer to China, there are other variables that could take place and there may be more cases due to the proximity, however New York State currently has nearly 10x more reported cases than California.
There are currently 331 million people in the United States and with a 2.5-4.2% rate based on this study, that would result in approximately 8.3 million to 13.9 million cases in the US.
Based on those numbers, the death rate would stand at approximately .28%, mostly in high risk patients with underlying medical issues. That’s calculated based on the current estimated 38,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US.
Public health experts are calling for more antibody tests to be done to get more accurate estimates. They consider this a key part in knowing how widespread the disease is and a stepping stone to re-opening the American economy.
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