Infections may be higher and fatality may be much lower than initially suspected for the novel coronavirus in Los Angeles County, according to early results of an antibody testing study conducted by USC and the LA County Department of Public Health announced Monday.
Unfortunately, what is unknown still far outweighs what is known about this coronavirus and the future it promises.
The antibody tests, which could be meaningful in restarting the economy, are on their way to mass production. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti both mentioned widespread antibodies testing Sunday in their respective news conferences when discussing a restarting of the economy.
But immunity against the virus has not been confirmed, and even if there is some immunity, the length of that immunity is unknown and untested. In some viruses like dengue fever, future infections even with antibodies can be harsher than initial infections, according to Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and one of the scientists who discovered HIV. Gallo later went on to develop the first antibody test for that virus.
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Furthermore, there have been multiple reports that people in China and South Korea tested positive for COVID-19, then went on to test negative, before testing positive again. South Korean officials said 91 patients thought to have cleared the virus tested positive again, with the World Health Organization saying it was investigating the occurrence.
Antibody testing, without a doubt, will be on the table, but it’s too early to tell whether these tests hold the importance of a knife to cut steak or a salad fork when the main course arrives.
For now, the COVID-19 tests remain the strongest tools to getting the country back to work, and the city and county have been opening testing facilities with a purpose. A quick check of the site to make appointments provided 31 locations in the county available for the same day early Monday morning, with even more locations set to open this week.
Any person of any age with symptoms in LA County can get a free same day or next day test — with results available in five days. As of 12:01 a.m. Monday morning, one drive-in location open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. had 636 tests available in Lincoln Heights for the same day. The Crenshaw Christian Center, also open the same hours, had 1,737 same day appointments open. That’s an average of nearly 290 appointments per hour available at that location to any LA County resident that simply checks a box that says they have symptoms.
As a reminder, these tests are free for anyone in the county.
Thus far, the city and county have not pushed everyone to get tested, i.e. people without symptoms. However, Garcetti’s first key element of returning the economy is “testing both for the virus and its antibodies.”
While the county and city aren’t ready to reopen the economy just yet, they appear to be building the infrastructure needed to enable an eventual reopening after more is known about antibodies and testing and processing time for COVID-19 tests improve.
Said Garcetti during Sunday’s State of the City address, “Let me be clear, we cannot stay indoors for six or seven months without risking an even greater catastrophe.” The mayor declared that the economic impact of the coronavirus is “bigger” and “will hurt more” than the 2008 recession.
The mayor added, “At the height of the great recession, our city’s unemployment rate hit 13.4%. Today it’s higher. Preliminary numbers for the top of this month show nearly 300,000 Angelenos unemployed. That number will rise.”
With nearly another month — at the minimum — of closures promised ahead, the economy will not be rebounding overnight. LA is under a Safer at Home order until May 15, and the state is under a Stay at Home order until further notice.
While talking about reopening the economy may be premature considering LA County had its deadliest day on Saturday, testing for both COVID-19 and its antibodies is undoubtedly the first step towards that end goal--even if we don't exactly know what those antibodies mean just yet.