VDH, UVA launch COVID-19 antibody testing project

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- 5,000 blood samples will be taken from patients throughout each of Virginia's 5 health districts to determine how many Virginians have been infected with COVID-19 and how many remain at risk.

UVA Health has partnered with the Virginia Department of Health and other hospitals around the state to conduct the Virginia Coronavirus Serology Project which will test the blood of 5,000 patients for COVID-19 antibodies to determine if they have or have had the virus.

The data will help VDH estimate how many people have had the virus without showing symptoms, or went untested, and better predict how COVID-19 may affect the state in the future.

While the blood samples will be collected across Virginia, all the testing will be performed at UVA Health. Eric Houpt, MD, the chief of UVA’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, is serving as project leader.

“The confirmed COVID case counts in Virginia, or in any state, are an underestimate because testing has been incomplete and there are many cases with mild or no symptoms at all,” Houpt said. “The question this project will answer is how much are we underestimating infection, how far are we from herd immunity and are we especially missing cases in certain groups or regions.”

To launch the initiative, VDH has partnered with a health system in each of the state’s five health planning regions: UVA in the Northwest, Inova in the Northern, Virginia Commonwealth University in the Central, Sentara Healthcare in the Eastern and Carilion Clinic in the Southwest.

Each region will collect 1,000 blood samples in June and July from patients, age 18 or older, who agree to the testing during regular outpatient clinic visits. Participants will also complete a short questionnaire. (All testing will be done during regular appointments; no additional volunteers are being sought.)

The blood samples will then be shipped to UVA Health to be tested for antibodies to COVID-19. The presence of the antibodies indicates the person has or has had the virus.

The results will help the state plan for future healthcare needs and better understand the risk factors for COVID-19 infection. Participants can choose to be notified of their results as well.

VDH aims to release its preliminary findings no later than the end of July.