In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, diagnostic testing, social distancing and mandates to stay home have all been critical elements in containing the virus and preventing further spread. While the highest priority among the scientific and medical community remains diagnostic testing to determine if an individual is currently infected with the novel coronavirus, the road toward our “new normal” will be informed by antibody testing.
Screening healthcare workers and first responders could determine which people may no longer be susceptible to re-infection and can continue to serve. Knowing who has developed some degree of immunity also could help determine which people in the general population can stop social distancing and return to work, resuming their normal everyday routine and activity.
Knowing what proportion of the population has been infected with the coronavirus and recovered could help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and/or state public health officials more effectively adjust shelter-in-place and other social isolation measures, allowing businesses and schools to reopen.
As many as 25 to 50% of people who are infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. Large-scale antibody testing could help determine whether previously undiagnosed people had been exposed. That could lead to a better understanding of the symptomatic versus asymptomatic ratio, an improved estimate of the prevalence of COVID-19, and a determination of the true fatality rate of the disease.
Scientists could track the rise and fall of antibody levels, enabling them to back-calculate the dates of infection and predict whether the coronavirus shows seasonal fluctuations.
People who have recovered from COVID-19 and produced neutralizing antibodies could donate plasma, which may serve as a possible treatment for those who are seriously ill due to COVID-19. In March, the FDA approved what is known as convalescent plasma treatment for use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.