Antibody Test Results in New York City Tell Us One Thing: It's Time to Get Back to Work

AP Photo/John Minchillo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the results of a statewide coronavirus antibody test Thursday and, as has been seen in studies conducted in multiple states, the actual rate of infection is many, many times higher than the reported rate of infection.

In the New York test, 3,000 adults in 19 counties, 40 localities were tested. The subjects were out shopping at grocery or big box stores when they were asked to participate in testing. According to the study, approximately 14 percent of New Yorkers have developed antibodies to the Wuhan coronavirus, but results varied widely by locale:

In New York City, about 21 percent, or one of every five residents, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies during the state survey. The rate was 16.7 percent in Long Island, 11.7 percent in Westchester and Rockland Counties, and 3.6 percent in the rest of the state.

Results from New York City are mindblowing. If the test truly represents what’s happening on the ground, that means that1.4 million adults in New York City have already been infected with coronavirus and have developed antibodies (6,677,142 adults reside in New York City). As of April 23 there were 145,855 reported coronavirus infections in New York City, with 11,267 deaths. If those are the true numbers, the fatality rate for coronavirus in New York City is miniscule.

There are a couple of reasons that the number of coronavirus deaths reported in New York City should not be taken as the Gospel truth, though. First, we know that thousands of deaths have been attributed to coronavirus without requisite testing having taken place. Secondly, autopsy results revealed that the first US death due to coronavirus took place on February 6 in California instead of February 27 in Washington State. There may be earlier coronavirus deaths in New York City as well that will be revealed by autopsy.

For comparison, the Santa Clara and Los Angeles County antibody studies released over the last week found that between 2.5 and 5.6 percent of county residents had developed coronavirus antibodies.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner of New York City’s Division of Disease Control, quickly went on record to pooh-pooh the study, saying that many tests currently on the market “may produce false negative or false positive results,” and thus should not be relied upon when making decisions about reopening. Also, Daskalakis said, there is a “lack of evidence” that any blood test for antibodies is indicative of “durable immunity.” State officials begged to differ:

Howard A. Zucker, the state health commissioner, said New York’s test had been developed in a state lab that had been given blanket approval for such tests by the F.D.A.

He said that while the city was right to raise concerns about some tests on the market, the state’s test is reliable enough to determine immunity — and, possibly, send people back to the office.

“It is a way to say this person had the disease and they can go back into the work force,” Dr. Zucker said. “A strong test like we have can tell you that you have antibodies.”

Zucker agreed with Daskalakis on one thing, though:

But he cautioned that the length of any such immunity remained unknown. “The amount of time, we need to see. We don’t know that yet,” he said, adding, “They will last a while.”

While the percentage of people who tested positive for antibodies in outside of the NYC metro area is similar to what was found in Santa Clara and Los Angeles, the NYC metro area results are in line with results of a study conducted in Chelsea, MA, another hard-hit, densely populated area. According to that study, 32 percent of Chelsea residents have developed coronavirus antibodies. As my colleague Elizabeth Vaughn covered:

Former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, whom I have mentioned numerous times as one who has been following this pandemic closely, points out that Chelsea’s 32% rate of immunity is a total 16 times the rate of people known to have been infected by the virus. He tweeted that Chelsea’s 32% result is beginning to approach herd immunity. He added that “Chelsea is much more like New York City than a lot of other American towns and suburbs – densely packed – and this kind of number could be a precursor of what NYC antibody testing would show.”

At this point I have to agree with what Streiff concluded Wednesday: “It is becoming increasingly obvious that the entire Wuhan lockdown is a grotesque overreaction to a virus that isn’t particularly deadly or virulent. It is becoming equally obvious the models driving this are utter nonsense and the people pushing those models are knowing or, worse, unknowing frauds.”