Apr 6, 2020 - Economy & Business

Serological coronavirus testing could be key to economic reopening

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's economy won't reopen anytime soon, despite frantic CEO whispers, but a glimmer of hope may be emerging in the form of serological testing.

Why it matters: Serologic tests aren't to determine whether or not you're infected with coronavirus. They are to determine if you have potential immunity that could allow you to safely return to work.

How it works, per Axios' Alison Snyder and Eileen Drage O'Reilly:

  • When the body is exposed to a virus, the immune system begins to produce antibodies to fight the virus and future infections from it.
  • Those antibodies stick around after the virus is cleared from the body, making them an indicator of past infection.
  • Serological tests check the blood for these antibodies — providing confirmation of infection and possible protection.

Driving the news: Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, a New Jersey company that the Carlyle Group carved out of Johnson & Johnson in 2014, is beginning mass production of serologic tests that will be able to be run on the company's already-installed analyzers in more than 1,000 U.S. hospital and reference labs.

  • Each instrument is expected to be able to process 150 tests per hour.
  • A source familiar with the situation says that Ortho is ramping up production now and by the end of April expects to be making 500,000 tests per week (initially via its Rochester, New York, manufacturing facility). By May, it plans to be at 1 million tests produced per week.
  • Early testing work will be done in partnership with Creative Testing Solutions, a nonprofit blood donor testing lab owned by the American Red Cross, OneBlood, and Vitalant.

But, but, but: It is not yet 100% certain that people with the antibodies will be immune, particularly if the virus mutates, or how long any immunity would last. So far, the optimism is a highly educated guess.

The bottom line: People are unlikely to work or shop while still fearful of getting sick, even if politicians remove shelter-in-place orders. Serologic tests at scale, from Ortho and hopefully from others, could be the safety blanket that warms our economic engine.

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