Antibody tests that would verify whether a person recently had the novel coronavirus could be available within a week, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
“Within a period of a week or so, we’re going to have a rather large number of tests that are available,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning.
Having antibodies to the coronavirus could mean someone is protected from getting re-infected, making such tests important for medical workers and others on the front lines fighting the pandemic.
“If their antibody test is positive, one can formulate strategies about whether or not they would be at risk or vulnerable to getting re-infected,” Fauci explained.
Tests that would identify a current infection would still be important, he said, and used in parallel with antibody tests, which still need to be validated.
“But as we look forward, as we get to the point of at least considering opening up the country as it were, it’s very important to appreciate and to understand how much that virus has penetrated this society,” Fauci said. “Because it’s very likely that there are a large number of people out there that have been infected, have been asymptomatic and did not know they were infected.”
At least 17,836 people have died of coronavirus in the United States — nearly half of them in New York state. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, of the more than 473,093 total confirmed cases nationwide, about 162,000 are in New York state. That means it has more reported cases than any country in the world.
The US is set to reach its highest daily number of deaths on or around Sunday, according to models by the prominent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
It estimated that 60,415 in the US would die of coronavirus by August, assuming social distancing policies continue through May. That projection is down from the 82,000 it predicted earlier this week.
Antibody tests are used in other clinical scenarios, said Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer of Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Soon, she said, we’ll learn whether a coronavirus antibody test “tells us that somebody can go back to work, for instance, tells us that somebody is no longer infectious, and tells us that somebody cannot get the virus again.”
As officials begin discussing what it would take for the US to reopen, there could be “merit” to the idea of Americans carrying certificates of immunity that prove they have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, Fauci said.
Fauci told CNN, “It’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not.”
Social distancing appears to be working, officials say
Americans need to continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines throughout the coming holiday weekend, Fauci said Friday.
“Because it is working,” he said. “The kinds of mitigations that we’re doing now, the curves that we’re seeing flattening and coming down, that’s exactly and precisely because of what the American public is doing.”
“So even though we’re in a holiday season, now is no time to back off,” Fauci added. “As I say so often, now is the time to actually put your foot on the accelerator. Because we’re going in the right direction.”
Some states remain cautiously optimistic with the latest developments.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that there was a dramatic decline” in the hospitalization rate averaged over the past three days.
“Overall, New York is flattening the curve,” Cuomo said.
The number of deaths, though, remained close to Wednesday’s high, down to 777 from 799. Cuomo described the deaths as a lagging indicator, saying those who don’t make it tend to have been hospitalized the longest.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said new hospitalizations are dropping, while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state has the lowest number of hospitalizations per 100,000 people compared to other neighboring states.
And while the number of coronavirus-related deaths continues to increase in Ohio, the number of people impacted by the virus is lower than previously projected, Gov. Mike DeWine said.
“Ohioans have done a great job,” the governor told CNN’s Jim Sciutto Friday. “They’ve changed the future, but we’ve got to keep doing it.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state has seen a 1.9% drop of people in ICU, and the stay-at-home order appears to be working.
“I think we’re seeing the consequences of that when we see that our mortality rate is really a lot lower than what have been predicted, and it really shows that this mitigation works,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While maintaining social distancing measures appears to be holding down the spread in some areas, reopening the country will require a strategy and understanding the extent of the transmission, experts say.
“It’s not going to be one size fits all. It’s going to be using the data that we have from surveillance to really understand where it is the most important places for us to begin to reopen,” Redfield said.
Dr. Fauci on Friday cautioned against reopening too early, saying there should be a clear indication that the country is “strongly going in the right direction.”