On Friday, the Boston Globe reported that a team of COVID-19 researchers tested people in Chelsea, a small city just outside Boston, and while what they found was disturbing, it also offered some reason for hope.
"Nearly one third of 200 Chelsea residents who gave a drop of blood to researchers on the street this week tested positive for antibodies linked to COVID-19, a startling indication of how widespread infections have been in the densely populated city," reported Jonathan Saltzman. "Sixty-four residents who had a finger pricked in Bellingham Square on Tuesday and Wednesday had antibodies that the immune system makes to fight off the coronavirus, according to Massachusetts General Hospital physicians who ran the pilot study."
"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," continued the report. "But the Mass. General researchers ― who excluded anyone who had tested positive for the virus in the standard nasal swab test ― found that 32 percent of participants have had COVID-19, and many didn’t know it."
That suggests cases in Massachusetts, and possibly in the United States generally, could be far more widespread than anyone has been aware of — but it also offers a bit of hope.
“I think it’s both good news and bad news,” said MGH pathology vice chairman Dr. John Iafrate. “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.”
Researchers generally believe that people can't be infected twice with COVID-19, and that the antibodies present in people who have recovered confer at least temporary immunity to the virus. This is why people with antibodies are encouraged to donate blood — doctors hope that these can be used in vaccine research.
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