This Monday, April 6, 2020, photo shows an arrangement of Hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas. President Donald Trump and his administration are keeping up their out-sized promotion of the anti-malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, but scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19. (AP Photo/John Locher)
This past week, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers took to the streets of Chelsea for a Wuhan flu experiment: They asked passersby to take a blood test which identifies coronavirus antibodies.
The (limited) study found that one-third of participants tested positive.
Of 200 who had their fingers pricked on April 17th and 18th, 64 folks’ immune systems contained the antibodies — which means they’d contracted the virus.
As reported by The Boston Globe, “The 200 participants generally appeared healthy, but about half told the doctors they had had at least one symptom of COVID-19 in the past four weeks.”
Of course, the test results say nothing of numbers nationally. Experts were already aware that Chelsea had the state’s highest rate of confirmed cases.
Minimally, 39 Chelsea residents have died from the virus, and as of Tuesday, there’d been 712 confirmed cases.
That’s about 1,900 contractions per 100,000 people — nearly 2%.
To be clear, the test in Bellingham Square excluded any who’d previously tested positive via the conventional nasal swab test.
Of those tested, 32% had the antibodies. “Many” — as per the Globe — hadn’t known they’d been carriers.
MGH’s Dr. John Lafrate — Vice Chair of the Pathology Department — bottom-lined the test’s takeaway:
“I think it’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s a raging epidemic in Chelsea, and many people walking on the street don’t know that they’re carrying the virus and that they may be exposing uninfected individuals in their families. On the good-news side, it suggests that Chelsea has made its way through a good part of the epidemic. They’re probably further along than other towns.”
It’s also a good reminder of how invisible the virus can be, and how unwittingly it can be transmitted.
Such circumstances provide a path to massive undercounting, as observed by Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino:
“We’ve long thought that the reported numbers are vastly under-counting what the actual infection is. Those reported numbers are based on positive COVID-19 tests, and we’re all aware that a very, very small percentage of people in Chelsea and everywhere are getting COVID-19 tests. Still, it’s kind of sobering that 30 percent of a random group of 200 people that are showing no symptoms are, in fact, infected. It’s all the more reason for everyone to be practicing physical distancing.”
Many previously predicted: As testing increases, the fatality rate will plummet as confirmed cases skyrocket. It seems to have been an adept forecast.
The Daily Wire reports on the situation in Colorado:
Antibody tests conducted in other states have…given important insight into the coronavirus. Early results from antibody testing in Colorado suggest the fatality rate of the virus is far lower than currently reported…
As pointed out by Thomas, the news is certainly reason to keep social distance. Masks make a lot of sense, too.
So affirmed Dr. Dean Xerras, medical director of the Mass. General Chelsea Healthcare Center and a co-investigator in the Chelsea study:
“Knowing how many people are infected is critical. We need to get them isolated. We need to get masks delivered to the city. We need to launch more safe isolation sites. We need to be able to identify cases and then give people the things they need to prevent perpetuation of the spread.”
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