Antibodies: A Piece of the COVID-19 Puzzle

COVID-19 has relentlessly ravaged cities throughout the world as public health and science experts scramble to gather knowledge to combat the virus and solve the mysteries of SARS-CoV-2. In its wake, the virus has left behind traces of its activity. One important piece of the puzzle is antibodies.

While it remains unknown if immunity occurs after infection, antibodies nonetheless seem to provide valuable information regarding the virus. The New York City Department of Health recently released the results of 1.5 million antibody tests, the highest number to date, accounting for nearly 15% of city residents.

The results potentially establish distribution of the virus by specific area. Epidemiology professor Wafaa El-Sadr from Columbia University told the New York Times, the antibody results provide “more evidence of how the virus penetrated deeply into some lower-income communities while passing more lightly across affluent parts of the City.”

For example, one predominantly Hispanic zip code in Queens revealed more than 50 percent of residents tested positive for antibodies, whereas no zip code south of 96th Street had a positive rate of more than 20 percent. Across all boroughs, 27 percent of New Yorkers tested positive, with Bronx the highest (33%) and Manhattan the lowest (19%).

When COVID-19 surged through New York City, tests were in short supply and unavailable outside of hospital settings. Until the lockdown, the mode of transmission was still being debated, mask effectiveness had yet to be determined, and it was not clear that those who were asymptomatic were capable of spreading the virus like wildfire through the concrete jungle. Months later, antibody tests are now showing a clearer picture of the route and depth of viral spread.

The light at the end of the tunnel appears just a little closer as we continue to understand the virus and progress is made for both a vaccine and treatments. But we can only move forward by gathering all pieces of the puzzle. Questions will continue to fog the overall understanding of this virus, including: will communities hit hardest be spared if there is a second wave due to herd immunity? What percent positive yields herd immunity?

As New York City has reopened, the number of cases has fortunately remained relatively low and epidemiologists have attributed it to the social distance recommendations, the widespread use of masks, and continued ban on indoor dining and bars. However, some have speculated antibodies are also playing a large role in maintaining a low infection rate.

Although we may not fully understand SARS-CoV-2 yet, it is crucial that we continue to collect these disparate pieces and ultimately complete the puzzle.

Authored by Doria Weiss of PWNHealth

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