Highly anticipated antibody testing results out of Santa Clara County in California headed by a Stanford University professor were released on Friday, showing that the estimated number of positive novel coronavirus cases is likely 50-80 times higher than reported, thus significantly dropping the estimated fatality rate.
The study, the first large-scale community antibody testing in the nation and led by Dr. Eran Bendavid, the associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, found that 2.5 to 4.2% of the 3330 subjects tested were found to have COVID-19 antibodies.
The population prevalence of the virus in the county ranged from 2.49-4.16%, the researchers found.
“These prevalence estimates represent a range between 48,000 and 81,000 people infected in Santa Clara County by early April, 50-85-fold more than the number of confirmed cases,” the study’s abstract explained.
“The population prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Santa Clara County implies that the infection is much more widespread than indicated by the number of confirmed cases,” according to the researchers. If the number of the recovered cases are similarly undercounted across the nation, the fatality rate would accordingly be overstated.
Speaking to ABC News, Dr. Bendavid confirmed the “findings suggest that there is somewhere between 50- and 80-fold more infections in our county than what’s known by the number of cases than are reported by our department of public health.”
Epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital Dr. John Brownstein told ABC the study is “confirmation of what we’ve expected, which is a much larger number of cases than we ever anticipated.”
“There has been wide recognition that we were undercounting infections because of lack of testing or patients were asymptomatic,” Brownstein explained.
Brownstein, also an ABC News contributor, “cautioned that the results for the California county are not necessarily representative of the U.S. population and noted the use of online ads to find participants could skew the candidate pool,” the network noted.
According to the study’s abstract, participants for the testing were “recruited using Facebook ads targeting a representative sample of the county by demographic and geographic characteristics.”
The study also suggests California is far from so-called “herd immunity,” an idea floated last month when the the number of COVID-19 cases and virus-related deaths in California (population of 40 million) was far below the anticipated onslaught, especially in relation to New York.
“Bendavid said the research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests that the large majority of the county, around 95%, is still without antibodies,” ABC noted.
“[W]hat that means for things like, are we going to wait for people to get infected or get antibodies in order for them to get back to work… knowing that well upwards of 90% of the population doesn’t have antibodies is going to make that a very difficult choice,” he questioned.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump released guidance for states to follow with regard to opening their states’ economies back up. There are three phases of the gradual plan which relate to things like a declining number of cases for an extended period of time, as opposed to a specific date.
During a conference call with the governors Thursday, the president gave the green light for states that want to get moving before May 1, according to The New York Times.