Virus antibodies fade fast but not necessarily protection (copy)

In this June 12 photo, a woman has blood drawn for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Michigan. Research published on July 21 suggests that antibodies the immune system makes to fight the new coronavirus may only last a few months in people with mild illness.

Maybe that nasty cold you had back in February was more than a cold. It’s possible you had COVID-19 and didn’t know it. Perhaps you were infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and didn’t even feel sick.

Wouldn’t you want to know that? On a personal level, this kind of information would give peace of mind as coronavirus cases continue to grow. From a broader policy standpoint, with no available vaccine, good information becomes the best available weapon to keep the coronavirus at bay.

This kind of information includes testing for current infections to find out who needs to isolate and get treatment, as well as contact tracing to learn who may have been exposed and needs to take precautions.

Another arrow in this quiver could be testing for antibodies, which tells if someone has been infected with the virus and recovered. St. Joseph takes a step in this direction with the launch of an antibodies testing program next week.

The initiative is made possible with $250,000 of CARES Act finding, distributed through the county. It comes as the Missouri Department of Health begins to de-emphasize free community testing and encourages localities to spend federal stimulus money on those kinds of events.

In St. Joseph, Mosaic Life Care officials cautioned that the testing won’t demonstrate wider herd immunity in the city, nor will it necessarily affirm that those with antibodies are immune to COVID-19. The hospital’s infectious disease expert said a recent study showed only 2.7% of people in Missouri showed traces of the virus when given an antibodies test.

That might sound minimal, but antibodies testing does provide information on the spread of the virus and how dangerous it is and isn’t for those who get it. Over time, this kind of information becomes important for policymakers in determining plans for returning to work, school and public activities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those who test positive for antibodies but don’t show symptoms can continue with normal activities, including work, but they should take steps to protect themselves and others.

It’s important to remember that, as of right now, there is no quick fix to end the COVID-19 nightmare, only small steps and smart choices. That’s a lesson worth remembering in a week when President Trump praised a doctor who makes wild claims about coronavirus cures, among other things.

Antibodies testing is a good use of CARES Act funding. Arming St. Joseph residents with more information on the scope of this pandemic will only help to eventually hasten a path to normalcy.