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Coronavirus: Antibody testing coming to Columbus-area hospitals - News - The Columbus Dispatch


Testing for COVID-19 antibodies could soon be available throughout Ohio. Experts say the testing could be key to restarting the economy on a large scale.

Central Ohio hospitals could start testing for COVID-19 antibodies in patients as soon as next week.

The testing, which could be key to reopening Ohio, might also unlock several traits of the virus, including how easily it spreads and its true mortality rate, said Dr. Peter Mohler, vice dean for research at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

“The science is tried and true. It’s been used for decades,” Mohler said of antibody testing. “It’s just a matter of scaling and the logistics of testing.”

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To get tested, patients would have blood drawn at a testing site. At some point, Mohler said, doctors might need a smaller amount of blood that could be taken with a single prick to a person’s finger.

Unlike COVID-19 tests, which are more complex, the results of an antibody test could be determined within about an hour, Mohler said.

Ohio State plans to start offering the test next week and aims to ramp up its antibody testing so that it can screen around 5,000 people per day several weeks from now, Mohler said. It’s possible there could even be drive-through antibody testing sites, as there have been for COVID-19 tests.

Ohio State developed its antibody test by first examining the hundreds already on the market. But, Ohio State’s test also checks for a “neutralizing antibody,” which nullifies the virus’ effect on the body.

Whether someone has this specific type of antibody depends on their immune system’s response to COVID-19, Mohler said. Both are good to have, but one is undeniably better.

“If you’re looking at the size of an army, the army can be a bunch of people who don’t have weapons,” Mohler said. “It might be big but it could be defeated with a much smaller army that has a bunch of weapons.”

OhioHealth also plans to launch antibody testing next week, said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, medical director of infectious diseases for the health system. OhioHealth is still working out the details of its antibody testing and Gastaldo said Friday that he isn’t sure how many people the health-care provider will be able screen per day.

OhioHealth’s screening will be based on a doctor’s recommendation of the patient. It’s not yet clear how the testing will be done for Ohio State.

In recent weeks, studies using antibody tests have emerged that show many more Americans perhaps have contracted COVID-19 without even knowing it.

>>Read More: Ohio institutions among those working hard to create vaccine and treatments for coronavirus

A study from Stanford University in California tested 3,300 people in Santa Clara County and found that just over 4% of people already had the virus by early April and might not have known it. A similar survey of 3,000 New York City residents found that nearly 14 percent tested already had virus antibodies.

Such revelations could help Ohio figure out exactly where the state is in the pandemic and just how high the death rate is for people who caught the virus.

“My hunch is we’re going to learn something that will be very valuable for us to know as a community,” Gastaldo said.

As of Friday, 690 Ohioans had died of COVID-19. Because there are 15,169 total cases throughout the state, Ohio’s death rate is about 4.5%. Though other states are reporting similar death rates for known cases, the New York study out this week indicates it could actually be as low as 0.5%.

If far more people are found to have already contracted the virus, it could mean that Ohio, or the United States as a whole, is much closer to achieving “herd immunity” than previously thought.

Herd immunity is obtained when a high percentage of a population has contracted a virus and becomes immune to it, starving the virus of ample hosts, according to the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

But many unknown factors remain, Gastaldo said.

Antibody tests already on the market were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on an emergency basis and have not been fully vetted, Gastaldo said. Doctors also are still unsure about just how immune someone is to COVID-19 if they have antibodies for the disease and how long that immunity might last.

Though questions remain, eventual widespread antibody testing could help Ohioans transition back to some semblance of normal life.

If the presence of antibodies proves to cause immunity, the people with them could be the first ones to re-enter society, Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, has said.

mfilby@dispatch.com

@MaxFilby

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