Article | April 03, 2020

Nationwide COVID-19 Antibody Testing – the Best and Quickest Way to Get Us Back to Work

Gary Shapiro

The federal government should immediately plan to undertake broadscale antibody testing of citizens who have had or may have been exposed to COVID-19. This is both a smart health plan and sound economic plan.

While much of our national effort is focused on testing and treating the sick – and rightfully so – at the same time, we can initiate the antibody testing necessary to ensure we get Americans who have some level of immunity back into the workforce. The test – approved just yesterday by the Food and Drug Administration – requires only a drop of blood and 15 minutes in a doctor’s office.

I say this after my wife, a practicing surgeon, lost her sense of smell a few weeks ago and was frustrated she could not be tested for either COVID-19 (due to the scarcity of tests) or, weeks later, for antibodies (the tests were not available broadly in the U.S.). She shared her story on Medium, sparking similar stories from employees, association volunteers and others who also lost their sense of smell recently. And this week, The Wall Street Journal – with whom I shared my wife’s ordeal and the need for antibody-testing – endorsed the idea in its editorial pages.

Given the lack of widespread COVID-19 testing and restrictions on those who don’t have the most critical symptoms, I believe large numbers of people are now presumptive recovered cases and/or asymptomatic carriers – many of whom now benefit from some level of immunity. How do we confirm this?

First, we should immediately test interested medical professionals, so any qualified caregiver can feel comfortable helping COVID-19 patients without having to wear a high level of protective gear. This will also add to the U.S. workforce and preserve scarce personal protection product resources.

Next, we should test those who have had the virus and those who likely had the virus, but were not tested – for example, people who lost their sense of smell or taste for a short period of time in the last 90 days. People who have the antibodies can then get back to work without fear of infecting others or becoming infected. They can serve as front-line workers, receiving federal identification that confirms they are positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

The bipartisan House Problem Solvers caucus has the right idea. We need a national, public-private program – closely involving America’s world-leading companies – to produce and distribute antibody tests.

It is in our national interest to identify those who may have this immunity, so they can help care for others in need, protect those who haven’t been exposed and lead our country out of the recession.

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