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UVA antibody testing proposes many Virginians vulnerable to COVID-19

Virus Outbreak Variant
Posted at 9:09 PM, Feb 23, 2021

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - As Americans across the country are on the hunt towards herd immunity to end the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of Virginia are revealing COVID-19 antibody testing done around the state.

“Antibodies are a way to see additionally about how much spread has occurred that we don't know about,” Dr. Eric Houpt, Professor and Chief of Infectious Diseases at UVA Health.

“The purpose of this study was an early assessment of how much COVID had spread after that first wave back in spring 2020.”

Last summer, researchers partnered with health systems around the state, including Sentara Healthcare, for testing measuring antibodies in blood from about 5,000 people.

Dr. Houpt told News 3 of that number, a little more than 2% were positive for antibodies as of last August.

“If we take the findings from August and draw a line to where we are now in February… we would predict that somewhere between 15-20% of Virginia has been exposed to COVID-19.”

While those figures are an estimate, Dr. Houpt tells us those numbers are low.

“The vast majority of us do not have antibodies, have not been exposed, and therefore, we are completely susceptible to catching this virus and potentially getting sick,” he said.

Houpt added they found exposure rates higher in those identifying as Hispanic, with about 10% having antibodies. Meanwhile, those without health insurance were at about 6%.

“These findings have been seen before where certain groups are disproportionately greatly affected by COVID,” he said.

About two-thirds of folks that were positive were asymptomatic, which is why Houpt said it's important to follow health guidelines, including wearing your mask.

“Anyone could be asymptomatically positive, and those individuals are appropriately capable of transmitting the infection to others,” Houpt said.

He said these estimates underscore why it's important to get your vaccine when possible.

“That's going to be our clearest path to getting up to herd immunity,” Houpt said. “We need to get up to 60, 80% of population that is immune to this virus, either through having been infected or through vaccination, in order for the whole population to be protected.”

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