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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Health care workers and those in other front-line, highly vulnerable sectors will likely benefit the most as new tests come on the market to determine whether a person has had the coronavirus.

The big picture: Serological testing, along with diagnostic testing and contact tracing, is one of the basic tools public health experts say are key to managing the pandemic.

Serological tests identify the antibodies a patient's body produces when it fights this strain of the coronavirus. They test for past infections, not current ones.

  • Some people likely contracted the coronavirus but didn't feel sick, or weren't able to get a diagnostic test. Serology tests will confirm whether they had it. And on a larger scale that will provide more information about where the virus spread, the real number of cases and the actual death rate from the virus.

Yes, but: “People just think this is the solution, that this is finally the thing, that everybody is going to have immunity passports … and I am very skeptical of this for a variety of reasons,” said Ashish Jha, professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

  • “It’s going to have limited utility outside of hotspot cities and outside of professions where you’re going to see higher exposure,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told me.

Between the lines: Enthusiasm for serology tests as a way to help get people back to work is rooted in the belief that if you have antibodies for the virus in your system, you're immune from catching it again.

  • But we don't actually know whether that's true, or how strong that immunity might be.
  • And though the basic science is well-established, some officials, including Anthony Fauci, have cautioned the new tests haven’t yet been proven to work well.

Serology testing will be most useful in hotspots like New York City, Detroit, New Orleans, and Miami — areas where a larger percentage of the population has been infected.

  • And if the antibodies these tests detect do end up conferring immunity, the tests will be primarily helpful for workers who are at a particularly high risk of spreading the virus — including health care workers, first responders, grocery store workers and people who work with the elderly.
  • But “outside of the hotspots, I think that the overall rate of positivity is going to be sufficiently low that it’s not going to be a useful tool to return to work,” Gottlieb said.

The bottom line: The value here is in understanding the virus' true spread and helping the highest-risk workplaces operate more safely — not as any kind of universal, nationwide get-back-to-normal permit.

Go deeper: The next coronavirus test we need

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.