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Massachusetts Researchers Tested People On The Street For Coronavirus Antibodies. One Third Had Them.
A researcher tests an antibody at Dowell Clinical Laboratory on March 1, 2020 in Shanghai, China.
Tang Yanjun/China News Service via Getty Images

Last week, researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) asked people on the streets of Chelsea if they would be willing to take a blood test to look for coronavirus antibodies. The results of the limited study found that one-third of those tested had antibodies for the virus, meaning they had already caught it and recovered – many of them without feeling any serious symptoms.

Researchers were able to get blood samples from 200 Chelsea residents and 64 were found to have antibodies in their immune system to fight the coronavirus, The Boston Globe reported. The 200 who allowed themselves to get tested appeared healthy to researchers, but the Globe reported that about half of the participants said they had at least one coronavirus symptom in the past month, meaning they probably had COVID-19 but didn’t even realize it because they didn’t get that sick.

“I think it’s both good news and bad news,” Dr. John Iafrate, vice chairman of MGH’s pathology department and the leader of the study, told the Globe. “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,” Iafrate added. “They’re probably further along than other towns.”

Chelsea, the Globe reported, has Massachusetts’ highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 39 deaths and 712 confirmed cases – for a rate of infection at about 2%.

Thomas Ambrosino, Chelsea’s city manager told the Globe that the results of the study confirmed suspicions that coronavirus cases have been under-counted.

“We’ve long thought that the reported numbers are vastly under-counting what the actual infection is,” said Ambrosino, who has called his city the epicenter of the crisis in Massachusetts. “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,” he added.

Antibody tests conducted in other states have shown 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, The Daily Wire’s Amanda Prestigiacomo reported. A press release from the San Miguel County Public Health Department explained that it processed 986 antibody tests from late March and that 955 were negative, eight were positive, and 23 were considered “borderline.” But those numbers may not be discouraging, as the release explained:

A positive result on the first blood test means that individual has been exposed to COVID-19 (and may or may not have ever experienced symptoms).

An indeterminate or borderline result on the first test indicates that the result produced a “high-signal flash” which is not enough to produce a positive result. It means that the individual may have been recently exposed to COVID-19 and/or may be in the early stage of producing antibodies.

A negative result on the first blood test means that an individual either has not been exposed to COVID-19 –OR— the person is in the window of having recently been exposed and has not yet developed antibodies that would make the test result be positive.

A study in Santa Clara County, California found similar results, Prestigiacomo reported.

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