COVID-19 antibody testing: USC researchers weigh in about large-scale testing

USC scientists, in collaboration with Los Angeles County Public Health, are trying to unlock the secrets of our immune systems.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- What if you could take a peek into your body to find out if you're immune to COVID-19 and not contagious. That could be your ticket outside! That's the hope, but it may not be that simple.

Could large-scale antibody testing be the pathway out of this pandemic? USC scientists, in collaboration with Los Angeles County Public Health, are trying to unlock the secrets of our immune systems.

Neeraj Sood, professor and vice dean of the USC Price School of Public Policy, is the lead researcher.

"So what we're trying to do here is get a representative set of people from Los Angeles County and get them tested for COVID-19," he said.

Using finger stick tests, scientists can find out if you've been exposed to COVID-19.

"What the study will do is provide evidence on how deadly the disease is. How fast it's spreading in the community and when it is going to end," said Sood.

Standing with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sood said stay-at-home orders could possibly be lifted sooner for those with enough immunity.

"These are the individuals who can actually be on the front lines, take care of the elderly, take care of people in our ICUs and restart our economy," he said. "I think we have to do this in a scientific way, hopefully we don't wait for a vaccine for 18 months."

But there are some caveats.

"Not all tests are created equal and even though we're looking for antibodies, they're not all the same test. They're not all targeting the same antibodies on the same part of the virus," said Dr. Susan Butler Wu, associate professor of clinical pathology and director of a microbiology lab in Los Angeles County.

Butler Wu said some tests could mistake COVID-19 with other coronaviruses, resulting in false positives.

"We're all optimistic and hopeful. And at this point, sick of being quarantined at home and hope this is the answer, but we'll have to see what the data shows," she said.

Once the tests are verified to be accurate, the goal is to make them available to everyone in Los Angeles.

Another goal is to identify people who've recovered who can possibly donate their plasma to very sick patients.
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