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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.

Go deeper

Trump pardons Bannon in final hours of presidency

Steve Bannon. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

President Trump issued an eleventh-hour pardon to his former chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday night, sparing a longtime ally from a federal fraud prosecution over his alleged misappropriation of nonprofit funds.

Why it matters: Bannon was the most high-profile name on a White House list of what's expected to be dozens pardons and commutations, with hours remaining in Trump’s presidency. His pardon of the former Breitbart News chief came as Bannon faced criminal charges stemming from a scheme to privately finance a southern border wall.

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Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

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Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

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The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."