Apr 6, 2020 - Economy & Business

Serological coronavirus testing could be key to economic reopening

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

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.

Go deeper

23 hours ago - Health

Concerns about at-home coronavirus testing

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The latest wave of coronavirus testing concerns has arrived, this time about new at-home tests that are hitting the market, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Between the lines: Experts are worried about the accuracy of the tests and about limitations on who can access them.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Florida reported on Wednesday its largest number of new novel coronavirus cases in a single day since April 17. 1,317 people tested positive to take the state total to 58,764, per the state's health department. Despite the rise, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said bars and clubs could reopen on Friday.

By the numbers: More than 107,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus and over 1.8 million people have tested positive, per data from Johns Hopkins. More than 479,000 Americans have recovered and over 18 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus hospitalizations keep falling

Data: COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute; Note: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee and Puerto Rico have not reported hospitalizations consistently. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to decline, particularly in New York and other northeastern states that were among the hardest hit by the virus.

Yes, but: Some states are still recording stagnant or rising amounts of hospitalizations.