Roughly one in five people in New York City may already have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a test conducted to measure antibodies to the virus.
Antibodies are part of the immune system. The presence of antibodies to the coronavirus can indicate if someone has already been infected. That’s important in understanding the disease.
New York state tested 3,000 people across 19 counties and found that 13.9 percent of those tested had antibodies for the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse.
Extrapolating that to the overall New York population would mean that 2.7 million people across with state have already had the virus.
New York’s official count of COVID-19 cases is only 263,460, according to Johns Hopkins.
“It tells us this virus is much more widespread than we thought. When we look at the models that are using hospitalization rates and case fatality ratios, that those are likely overestimating because they’re based on skewed data,” he said. “The hospitalization rate may be much lower because the denominator (of people infected) is so much bigger.”
“I think it’s also in a way reassuring, meaning that we are developing some immunity to this. There are people that have mild illness that don’t know they are sick, and those individuals may be part of how we move forward as we start to think about reopening certain parts of the country,” Adalja added.
Cuomo said that if the projections are accurate, it would mean the death rate for the virus is about 0.5 percent, far lower than the 6 percent death rate based on the official count of cases and deaths.
The new data confirmed that the New York City area of the state is where the disease is concentrated. Antibodies were found in over 21 percent of those tested in New York City, 16.7 percent of those tested on Long Island and 11.7 percent of those tested in Westchester and Rockland counties.
For the rest of the state, only 3.6 percent of those tested had antibodies for the virus.
Cuomo said the numbers support his plan to reopen the state by regions, when the time comes to reopen.
“The facts should dictate the action,” he said. “When you have different facts, you have different actions.”
The antibody test may be important going forward, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, told The New York Times.
“It is a way to say this person had the disease and they can go back into the work force,” he said. “A strong test like we have can tell you that you have antibodies.”
Zucker said it is unclear if having the antibodies creates a long-lasting immunity,
“The amount of time, we need to see. We don’t know that yet,” he said.
Dr. David Katz, the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut, said recently that one key to stopping the virus is to build what is known as “herd immunity,” which is the collective resistance to a virus that grows naturally by many people having the disease, recovering and developing antibodies.
“It finds it harder to get to a host where it can survive and it dies out,” he said. “That’s herd immunity.”
Katz said the virus is so new that there is no data yet to determine how many people might need to have the disease and recover before the virus loses its punch.
“The numbers of us that need to have antibodies vary with the properties of a given contagion. And we’re learning what the properties of this particular contagion are. That also needs to come from data,” he said.
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